Good news for all mankind

Somerset lay preacher Michael Overd has been cleared of charges of Intentional harassment, alarm or distress (Section 4A of the Public Order Act).

Overd had been charged after it was alleged he had told two gay men that they would “burn in hell” while preaching in Taunton town centre in July. Reports claim he had an altercation with the same two men in October 2010. Police spoke to Overd on that occasion.

The complaint apparently came from Overd’s preaching from 1 Corinthians. The specific verse complained of was 1 Corinthians 6:9

6:9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, 6:10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God.

(Note, reader, the delicious reference to the “verbally abusive”).

Overd’s lawyers maintain that the two men became abusive and threatening towards the preacher, but no action had been taken about this.

The Public Order Act has been used far too often to curb free expression, but in this case the court has got it right. Overd is entitled to his Bible-bashing, and people are allowed to disagree. The Public Order Act should only be invoked when there is a genuine threat of a disruption of the peace.

The government is currently examining the wording of the Public Order Act, and will report by the end of March (Index on Censorship has submitted its views). We should hope that it will take the lesson of this verdict into account. it is a positive step.