LONDON – The Christian Institute has voiced concern after a street preacher was handed a fine of more than $1,500 for saying homosexuality was a sin.
U.S. evangelist Shawn Holes, 47, was preaching in Glasgow, Scotland, on March 18 when he was arrested and detained overnight in a police cell.
Police later charged him with breaching the peace and told him to pay the fine on the grounds that his remarks were "homophobic" and had been "aggravated by religious prejudice."
Holes was touring the U.K. as part of a group of evangelists from the U.S. He was taking questions from the public when a gay couple in the crowd asked him about his views on homosexuality.
He allegedly told them that homosexuals "deserve the wrath of God" and would go to hell.
Holes said the incident had "felt like a set-up" by gay rights campaigners and that he had only admitted the charge because he wanted to return to the U.S. to see his family and father, who is staying in a hospice.
The case has concerned even gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who branded the fine "disproportionate."
"Shawn Holes is obviously homophobic and should not be insulting people with his anti-gay tirades," the activist said. "He should be challenged and people should protest against his intolerance. However, in a democratic, free society it is wrong to prosecute him. Criminalization is not appropriate. The price of freedom of speech is that we sometimes have to put up with opinions that are objectionable and offensive."
The Christian Institute helped pay for Holes' lawyer, Tony Kelly, who had advised him to challenge the charge.
Kelly said: "This case raises important issues about the interface between the criminal law in Scotland, freedom of speech and religious freedom."
Christian Institute director Colin Hart said: "The fine in this case was totally disproportionate. The police should have never arrested Mr Holes at all.
"We believe that had he fought the charge it would have been proved that he did nothing wrong. We are disappointed that Mr Holes pleaded guilty."
Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church, argued that Holes should not have been charged because he was expressing a religious conviction.