A café owner in England claims the police told him he was not allowed by law to show Bible verses on a television screen in his shop, but the police department denies the claim and says it was all a misunderstanding.
Jamie Murray had been playing Bible verses on the television screen in his Salt and Light café since it opened eight years ago, the Blackpool Gazette reported. However, a woman was offended by a verse that referenced homosexuality and called police.
When the police arrived to follow up on the complaint, they told Murray that displaying Bible verses publicly violated Section Five of the Public Order Act, the BBC News reported.
"I did say to the police, 'Are you seriously telling me I could be arrested for playing the Bible quietly on a screen?'" Murray told BBC News. "I was told, 'It's offensive and homophobic material we are against'."
However, a police spokesperson denied that Murray was told to stop displaying Bible verses.
"At no point did the officer ask the café owner to remove any materials or arrest the man and we took a common sense and objective approach in dealing with the complaint," the spokesperson said, according to the Blackpool Gazette.
"The officer discussed the matter with the café owner and explained to them [sic] the legislation that is in place around materials that are displayed or broadcast in a public environment," the spokesperson added.
The police spokesperson also apologized for the mix-up, saying, "It appears that the officer has misinterpreted the Public Order Act and we have apologized to the café owner for any distress we may have caused."
The Public Order Act in question is extremely broad. Section 5, the part of the Act reported to have been violated, states: "A person is guilty of an offenses if he – (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior, or disorderly behavior, or (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby."
The legislation does not mention religious literature.
Regardless of whether or not the police told Murray to take down the Bible verses, the café owner is seeking legal action against the police department with the help of The Christian Institute, an England-based charity.
"Will Lancashire Police be publishing a police-approved Bible?" Mike Judge, a CI representative, asked.
He added, "I'd have thought Lancashire Police would have learned their lesson after paying out £10,000 (or $15,638) to a pair of Christian pensioners who they had interrogated over their views on gay rights," referring to a Christian couple who sued Lancashire police in 2006 after they were interrogated about their "moral beliefs" after causing a small uproar for attempting to put Christian literature alongside gay rights pamphlets in the city.
CI also represented the Christian couple and the institute has warned Lancashire police that they may end up paying again.
"After that controversy they promised to review their procedures to stop this kind of nonsense," Judge said. "They broke that promise (last) Monday when their officers marched into the Christian café in Layton Road. The police may now be facing another costly legal action."