An American evangelist said he was arrested and interrogated about his Christian faith after he was caught on a London sidewalk preaching that homosexuality is a sin.
Tony Miano, a retired deputy sheriff and former chaplain with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept., was charged with "using homophobic speech that could cause people anxiety, distress, alarm or insult."
Miano had been preaching on a London street corner during the Wimbledon Tennis Championships with a ministry group called Sports Fan Outreach International.
He was preaching about immoral living – and cited homosexuality as an example of lifestyle choices that are contrary to biblical teaching.
"I never used any gay slurs," he said. "You would never hear me using slang or discriminatory language against homosexuals or any other group. That would be contrary to my faith."
At some point, the evangelist quoted I Thessalonians 4:1-2 – a passage of scripture that mentions sexual immorality.
"I talked about women addicted to romance novels, men addicted to pornography, people with lustful thoughts, heterosexual fornication and homosexuality," Miano told Fox News. "When I mentioned that the Bible was clear that homosexuality is a sin, a lady walked by and she glared at me and hurled the f-bomb."
Miano said the woman came back a short time later and began to videotape his sidewalk sermon. Then, she called the police.
"They were concerned about homophobic speech," he said. "But I told them I don't fear homosexuals. The language I used was not homophobic, as I was not promoting fear or hatred of homosexuals."
Miano said he did not limit his remarks to homosexual acts.
"I did not speak solely about homosexuality as a form of sexual immorality but also about any kind of sex outside marriage between one man and one woman, as well as lustful thoughts," he said. "All of these are considered mainstream Christian positions and have been taught and believed by Christians for thousands of years."
Police took the retired deputy sheriff to a nearby jail where he was fingerprinted. Officers also took a sample of his DNA and then he was interrogated.
"It was very distressing to be arrested and interrogated for openly expressing my deeply held Christian beliefs," he said. According to a transcript of the interrogation provided to Fox News, the officers asked if he really believed homosexuality is a sin. He was also asked whether he would help a homosexual who requested a favor.
"I was made to feel that my thoughts could be held against me," he said. "The detective also asked me if I thought I was 100 percent right in what I had done. I said yes."
Miano said he would gladly offer assistance to a homosexual.
"The Christian faith is dictated by the two greatest commandments – to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor," he said. "As such, I am compelled to love all people. Had a gay come up and asked me for something to eat, I would have fed him."
But what troubled Miano is the idea that a hypothetical situation could have been used against him in court.
"I was actually going to be tried for how I thought," he said.
In an ironic twist, the officers made arrangements to provide the evangelist with a Bible to read in jail – the same book that led to his arrest.
"The same book I read from in public which resulted in my arrest, was now the same book the police were giving to provide me comfort," he said.
Miano, who is a member of the Evangelical Free Church, has been open-air preaching for eight years. He said this is the first time he's been arrested. "It was a rather surreal experience," the retired deputy sheriff said. "I've conducted many interrogations but I've never been the subject of one." Miano spent about seven hours in jail before he was released without explanation and without an apology.
Now back home in Southern California, Miano said he fears that what happened in Great Britain could soon happen in the United States.
"I believe that's what our government is going to eventually do here," he said. "I believe homosexuals or others who are sensitive to their point of view will be visiting churches to listen to what preachers say from the pulpit. And I believe that pastors will be arrested in their pulpits for teaching what the Bible says about homosexuality and other sins."
Andrea Williams, the chief executive of the British Christian Legal Centre echoed those concerns.
"It's clear that there is already a clamp down on freedom of speech where people publicly express mainstream Christian views on sexual ethics," he said.