Street preacher Michael Overd has been found guilty of using threatening or abusive words after making homophobic remarks during a sermon delivered in Taunton High Street.
Overd was ordered to pay £250 to a passer-by who had been
'offended' by the preacher's comments, and he initially refused, at which point judge Shamim Qureshi threatened the preacher with a prison sentence. He has been ordered to pay total costs of £1200.
Overd intends to appeal his conviction and said
I follow my Lord and leader, so I won't tone down.
The street preacher was charged with a public order offence, after complaints were made by members of the public that he had made homophobic and Islamophobic remarks. In particular
he quoted Leviticus 20:13 :
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (English Standard Bible)
The BBC reports that the judge told the preacher he seemed to enjoy testing the laws on free speech to their limits . Overd was also told that he should not have quoted from Leviticus 20:13 when speaking about homosexuality , according
to Christian Today, who also report that the judge suggested that there were other verses he could have chosen if he wanted to talk about what the Bible says about homosexuality.
Judge Qureshi also works as a judge for the Muslim
Arbitration Tribunal, which aims to help Muslims resolve disputes in accordance with Islamic Sacred Law.
Overd was found not guilty on two other charges, which included causing racially or religiously aggravated harassment, alarm or
distress after he made critical remarks about the Muslim religious character Mohammed.
The National Secular Society has previously raised concerns about the trial's implications for free speech. Terry Sanderson, NSS president, said the ruling
appeared to make the quoting of certain passages of the Bible illegal:
Whilst we all want to encourage public civility, there is a higher principle at stake. As long as there is no incitement to violence, then people
should be allowed to speak freely without fearing legal repercussions.