LONDON – The arrest of a street preacher has renewed concern over religious freedom for Christians in the United Kingdom.
Dale McAlpine, 42, was arrested in his home town of Workington, in Cumbria, last month after he mentioned homosexuality as one of a number of sins listed in the Bible, alongside idolatry, blasphemy, fornication, and drunkenness.
He said he refrained from speaking about homosexuality in his sermon but when a passerby inquired on the issue, told her it was a sin.
He was then approached by a gay community support officer who took him to the police station where he was detained in a cell for seven hours and charged with causing "harassment, alarm or distress."
McAlpine, who denied the charge, was released on bail on the grounds that he cease preaching.
U.S. evangelical Dr. Albert Mohler wasn't surprised by the arrest and said he has seen "this coming for some time now."
"We are witnessing the constriction of Christian speech and the criminalizing of Christian ministry," he wrote in a commentary. "The Bible clearly condemns homosexual behaviors, and the Christian church has been clear about this teaching for twenty centuries. But now, the statement that homosexuality is a sin can land a preacher in jail."
He said even if all charges are dropped against McAlpine, the message is clear that "the act of Christian preaching is now a potential criminal offense."
He warned Christians that such arrests are likely to happen elsewhere, besides Britain, as well.
Writing in The Telegraph, former Catholic Herald editor Cristina Odone condemned the action by the police, saying McAlpine was another victim of the "new inquisition."
"Fueling the inquisitors is a vicious secularism that allows no tolerance for views based on Christian values," she said.
"Freedoms of speech and conscience are important, but do not automatically trump all individual rights. A civilized, tolerant society requires negotiation between these freedoms and rights, between a preacher's right to proclaim his beliefs and a gay's freedom to live out her sexuality.
"Such negotiation requires confidence in one's own belief system and respect for those of others. These qualities have been quashed, instead, by a tiny and unrepresentative political class that respects only the secularist side of the equation."
Commentator and author Peter Hitchens warned that British society was moving closer to the point where a person could be prosecuted for saying in public that homosexual acts are wrong.
"The Public Order Act of 1986 was not meant to permit the arrest of Christian preachers in English towns for quoting from the Bible. But it has," he said. "The Civil Partnerships Act 2004 was not meant to force public servants to approve of homosexuality. But it has.
"The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 was not meant to lead to a state of affairs where it is increasingly dangerous to say anything critical about homosexuality. But it did."
He added, "We have traveled in almost no time from repression, through a brief moment of mutual tolerance, to a new repression."