So the persecution of Christian open air preachers by those who are tasked to uphold the law, already commonplace in England, has moved to Scotland. This time the democratic principle of freedom of religion and speech was trampled into the gutter by Police Scotland in the city of Perth.
The Revd Josh Williamson was recently arrested on two occasions for preaching the Gospel on Perth High Street. The first encounter with Police Scotland occurred on Wednesday, 18 September 2013, and the second was on Saturday, 21 September 2013.
The Police have given a number of reasons for their uninformed and heavy handed actions. Officers have variously alleged that Williamson was ‘too loud’, yet he was using no amplification or voice enhancement. It has also been alleged that the content of his speech was the problem, yet at the time, Williamson was reading from Paul’s Epistle to the Thessalonians.
In a recent press interview, Williamson said: "I think it is a form of discrimination and I think that comes back to the content. It becomes dangerous when police say it's due to the content, you get into a position where you wonder what part of speaking from the Gospel is illegal."
According to Peter Norris, spokesperson for the legal support group, Christian Concern, it is not uncommon for street evangelists to preach on the "High Streets" or main roads of towns in the UK. Norris states: "Its public property and they are free to preach there. Sometimes you have to get a permit for bigger things, but for these guys it's perfectly legal for them to preach on the street."
Christian Concern takes the view that the wave of recent arrests across the UK is most likely due to a lack of legal understanding by the police, who out of ignorance or malice have mis-applied England's Section 5 of the Public Order Act and Scotland's Breach of the Peace laws.
The ‘By the Way’ team believes that this is a fundamental issue of freedom of speech in a parliamentary democracy. We therefore agree with Peter Norris in his assertion that this battle with the authorities is one in which all citizens should have an interest........."We are just trying to profile the cases so that it comes to public attention that it needs to be addressed because it's a freedom of speech issue which is in everyone's best interest. Thriving democracies depend on freedom of speech being preserved."
All Christians, particularly, Ministers, Pastors and Priests should wake up, write to their MSP and Chief Constable of Police Scotland and stand up for the principle of free speech in a democracy.