Street preacher cleared of ‘hate speech’ charges for preaching from the Bible

The Union flag flies in front of the Clock face on the Queen Elizabeth Tower, commonly referred to as Big Ben on April 2, 2019, in London, England.
The Union flag flies in front of the Clock face on the Queen Elizabeth Tower, commonly referred to as Big Ben on April 2, 2019, in London, England. | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

A court in the U.K. has cleared a 72-year-old Christian street pastor of all charges a year after his arrest for purportedly causing “alarm and distress” in London by preaching about the biblical definition of marriage, which police said was “hate speech."

Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court acquitted Pastor John Sherwood of the Penn Free Methodist Church in north London, whose defense was centered on Article 10 of the 1998 Human Rights Act.

“The trial was quite remarkable in that there was so much Scripture quoted in it. Pastor Sherwood was determined to impress upon the prosecution that everything that he ever preaches upon is grounded in the final authority of God’s word, the Bible,” Sherwood’s colleague, Pastor Peter Simpson, who was with Sherwood at the time of his preaching, told Conservative Woman U.K.

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Article 10 of the 1998 Human Rights Act states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority.”

At the trial, “the public gallery was full with Christians showing their support for a man of God who is willing to stand up for the truths of Scripture,” Simpson was quoted as saying. And after the trial, Pastor Sherwood recited words of the hymn, “To God be the glory, Great things he hath done.”

Last April, Sherwood had been speaking on Genesis 1:27-28 in the northwest London town of Uxbridge, arguing that marriage is between one man and one woman, when he was approached by police officers and told that three complaints had been received about his preaching. The police accused him of causing “alarm and distress” to members of the public and arrested him. 

On April 23, 2021, Sherwood was held overnight at a police station. In September, he was charged under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, which outlaws “threatening or abusive words or behavior likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress,” according to Christian Today.

Sherwood’s arrest was captured on video and condemned as “brutal” by the campaign group Christian Concern.

A police officer spoke to Simpson at the time and ordered him not to offend people who identify as gay by quoting from the Bible, even though there is no law protecting people from being offended.

“I responded that the police would have no objection whatsoever to a Pride parade being held in Uxbridge, yet that would be highly offensive to Bible-believing Christians,” Simpson wrote at the time. “The officer did not appear to appreciate the logic behind this argument.”

Police officers urged Sherwood to come down from a step ladder he was preaching from as he “respectfully” informed police he has freedom of speech and people have the freedom to ignore him and continue walking if they disagree with his statements, Simpson wrote.

Sherwood resumed preaching and spoke of the “precious right to freedom of speech,” which is traced back to the Magna Carta in 1215 and the Bill of Rights in 1689. Onlookers again accused him of making homophobic statements and hate speech.

The officers proceeded to pull the pastor down from the ladder as he resisted arrest and seemingly lunged at an officer as multiple officers handcuffed and arrested him.

A lady in the crowd was heard saying, “it’s a Christian country, let him speak,” while Simpson noted that others in the crowd had accused him of hate speech. 

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