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After dismissing hate speech charges against street preacher, U.K. prosecutor says Bible is ‘no longer appropriate in modern society’

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“The view from the CPS was that the Bible is offensive and contains illegal speech which should not be shared in public. ‘Offence’ is an entirely subjective concept and is easily manipulated to shut down viewpoints that people simply don’t like. Any suggestion that there is a right not to be offended must be strongly resisted. In today’s democracy, we need the freedom to debate, challenge and disagree.”

–ANDREA WILLIAMS, CHRISTIAN LEGAL CENTRE

Hate crime charges against an outdoor preacher in the U.K. were dropped after the lesbian women who accused him of human rights violations refused to testify — but not before a senior crown prosecutor claimed that “there are references in the bible [sic] which are simply no longer appropriate in modern society and which would be offensive if stated in public.”


Quick Facts


On November 1, 2020, John Dunn was preaching on the street. A lesbian couple walked by Dunn as they held hands. Dunn said, “I hope you are sisters.” The two responded that they were in a homosexual union. Dunn told them, “It says in the Bible that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

The two lesbians went to the police and accused Dunn of “biblical speak” and claimed that he shouted at them, “You are going to burn in Hell,” as well as calling one of them a “devil woman.” Dunn, who according to his legal representation, the Christian Legal Centre, lost his voice box due to throat cancer and is unable to shout, denies making either statement.

The women didn’t appear in court and would not respond to phone calls and visits from police. As a result, the charges were dropped.

The dismissal, however, is not what has been drawing headlines. Instead, it is the statement Senior Crown Prosecutor Nicholas Hoyle made in a letter regarding Dunn’s arguments. He said,

“Whether a statement of Christian belief or not, the Court is being asked to consider whether the language has the potential to cause harassment, alarm or distress. This document is not the forum for religious debate, but the bible contains other material recognising slavery (Exodus 21:7), the death sentence (Exodus 35:2 and Leviticus 24:16) and cannibalism (Deuteronomy 28:27). There are references in the bible which are simply no longer appropriate in modern society and which would be deemed offensive if stated in public.”

Hoyle did not elaborate on why recognizing or talking about slavery, the death sentence, or cannibalism is not appropriate. He references Deuteronomy 28:27 which does not talk about cannibalism, while verses 53-57 of the chapter only warn the Israelites that if they did not obey the Lord, nations would place them under siege and they would resort to cannibalism due to hunger.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has not commented on why Hoyle made the statement or whether CPS agrees with his assertion that passages of the Bible should not be stated in public.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said that CPS’s approach to the case and the Bible is “deeply concerning,” explaining,

“The Bible and its teachings are the foundation of our society and has provided many of the freedoms and protections that we still enjoy today. It is extraordinary that the prosecution, speaking on behalf of the state, could say that the Bible contains abusive words which, when spoken in public, constitute a criminal offence. The view from the CPS was that the Bible is offensive and contains illegal speech which should not be shared in public. ‘Offence’ is an entirely subjective concept and is easily manipulated to shut down viewpoints that people simply don’t like. Any suggestion that there is a right not to be offended must be strongly resisted. In today’s democracy, we need the freedom to debate, challenge and disagree.”

After the charges were dismissed, Dunn gave his testimony and explained what motivated him to become a street preacher:

“Before I became a Christian, I hated people. I served with the Special Forces and I made it my mission to learn how to best kill people. That was my job. But when I met Jesus Christ, He changed my heart, took away my hatred and filled it with love. Jesus was the answer for me, and I believe the world needs to know and experience this hope. That is why I do what I do, to help everyone to find the light of Jesus out of the darkness we all live in.”

Of his comments on the street he said, “When I preach, I only ever say what is in the Bible. When they told me they were in a same-sex marriage, I was concerned for them. I had to communicate the consequences of their actions based on what the Bible says. I wanted to warn them, not out of condemnation, but out of love. I wanted them to know that there is forgiveness through the love of Jesus.”

He added: “I am relieved and grateful that the case has been dropped and I plan to continue to preach on the streets of Swindon.”

This case shows why it is important to safeguard the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech. Great Britain has adopted laws that criminalize speech that others have deemed threatening or abusive, disorderly, or causing a person harassment, alarm, or distress. The government is granted authority to determine what is threatening or causes a person distress.

As children we were all taught the adage, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” The adage is intended to help children repel insults and realize that they are simply words. In Great Britain the adage should say, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words are a criminal offense and will land me in prison.”

The adage first appeared in the Christian Recorder, a publication of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1862. At the time it read, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never break me. But names will never harm me.” This wording captures the spirit of the witticism. In truth, words can hurt a person emotionally, but not physically. The point of the adage is to convey that a person’s words don’t have to matter — you can choose to ignore them or listen to them, but either way they can do you no harm.

In colloquial terms, we would say, “Get over it,” or “Let it go.” But under speech laws, a person’s words, however intended, can be grounds for legal action, because no one is ever expected to deal with any offense.

This has led to a prosecutor, speaking for the government, to now claim that it is criminal to speak passages of the Bible because someone might be offended. However, the Bible is offensive to those who don’t want to accept its truths.

1 Peter 2:4-8 says,

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,’

and

‘A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.’

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Dunn’s message may have been offensive, but it was shared in love. Sometimes we need to hear things that offend us, rather than be prevented from ever hearing anything we don’t like. Thankfully, this case was dismissed, but had it gone to trial, a conviction could have had harsh ramifications for speech and religious liberty for everyone in the U.K.


Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.