Christian street preacher Mike Overd, who won a major religious freedom case earlier this year in the U.K., has reportedly been arrested and released again in Taunton, with an online petition seeking to ban him for allegedly saying gay people will go to hell.
U.K.'s Christian Concern, which has backed Overd in a number of his court cases, told The Christian Post on Wednesday that the latest arrest was a "knee-jerk" reaction by police, however.
As Somerset County Gazette reported, Overd was arrested and later released without charge on Saturday after witnesses accused him of hurling "racial, homophobic, discriminative and offensive comments" at passers-by during his street preaching, though he denies any wrongdoing.
"I got into a confrontation with him last week because of my sexuality, saying I was a sinner and will go to hell for being gay - and just because I have two kids, I am a bad father for bringing them up in that environment," said Leon Da Silva, who has launched an online petition signed by over 3,800 people against the preacher.
"I am proposing that we go to the local council and get this man banned from preaching in the town center as locals want a hassle-free shopping experience."
Overd has denied saying that people will go to hell because of their sexual orientation, however, and argued that he did not know Da Silva was gay.
A spokesperson for Christian Concern told CP that Overd has "made it clear" that he is motivated by the desire for all people to hear the Gospel.
"Yet once again, the police's treatment of him illustrates their lack of understanding about how the law applies to Christian street preachers. The decision to arrest Mr. Overd was a knee-jerk reaction, as he was threatened with a dispersal order for exercising his legal rights and then arrested and detained without being told what he had done wrong or evidence first being gathered to substantiate the accusations," the spokesperson said.
He revealed that Overd was held for nearly five hours by police, and was not given a clear explanation of what he allegedly did wrong.
"The same lack of awareness of how the law applies to Christian street preachers is seen throughout the country, when street preachers are arrested where no violation of the law has occurred," the spokesperson continued.
"It is clear that additional training is needed to safeguard the fundamental right of freedom of expression, which is foundational to a functioning democracy."
Michael and Maureen Palmer, a married couple, accused Overd in the Somerset County Gazette article of getting into an argument with them and calling the husband a "Hitler lover," which Overd also denied.
"I said, 'Are you going to join in and be just as bad as your wife? I value the freedom of speech. People died in the Second World War to give us freedom of speech,'" the street preacher explained.
"I said words to the effect, 'You stand alongside Hitler to a degree.' I didn't call him a Hitler lover," he added.
"They're trying to stop a Christian preacher giving his message religiously and democratically within our law."
Overd and another preacher, Michael Stockwell, won their appeal and saw their guilty verdict of religiously aggravated public disorder overturned back in June. They hailed it as a major victory for Christians across the nation.
"This is not an isolated case. How many times must we go to court before there is respect for the law?" Overd said following the victory at Bristol Crown Court.
"My heart bleeds for this country, but I am a patriot and I will be back on the streets to preach."
Stockwell commented at that time, "Freedom of speech is under increasing assault in this nation. People should be free to express their beliefs in public, without risk of harm, violence or other repercussions. That's why today's result is such a great victory."
Overd has been summoned four times to court due to public order offenses. He was once found not guilty; twice the guilty verdicts were overturned; and one case was dropped.