Two U.K. Christian preachers convicted of religiously aggravated public disorder have won their appeal and are hailing it as a notable victory and an encouragement to 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?" Michael Overd said following the victory at Bristol Crown Court on Thursday, BBC News reported.
"My heart bleeds for this country, but I am a patriot and I will be back on the streets to preach."
Overd, 53, who called himself a "Christian soldier," vowed that he will continue spreading the Good News.
Michael Stockwell, 51, the second preacher, who is also a former U.S. marine, commented, "I feel elated that it is over. My heart is still for the Bristol people, and that they will be able to hear the Gospel being preached on the streets unhindered."
"When we were convicted of public order offenses in February, I was shocked that God's message of love is now considered by some to be hateful and dangerous," Stockwell continued, according to Premier.
"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."
The preachers were convicted and fined back in February after they were accused of hate speech against Muslims and gay people for reading from the King James Bible and saying that "Jesus is the only way to God" before a crowd of 100 people last year.
Overd said at the appeal hearing earlier this week that he does not hate Muslims or gays.
"If we truly love the Muslims we must bring the truth. Jesus said any prophet who comes in any other way is a liar and a thief. The Bible and Quran are fundamentally different," Overd declared, adding that he disagrees with homosexual people, but does not find them to be worse than anyone else.
Bristol Crown Court judges said on Thursday that despite witness reports that the preachers had been intentionally trying to wind people up, there was no evidence provided that the offense was religiously aggravated.
Judge Martin Picton said: "We conclude Mr Stockwell did no more than express his no doubt sincerely held religious beliefs as he was entitled to do."
Picton said that Overd seemed to take satisfaction in "working the crowd," as the Bristol Post reported, but admitted that it could not be proved that he committed a public order offense.
Andrea Williams from the Christian Legal Center, which has been supporting the preachers, lauded the court decision, stating "At a time where Christians are becoming increasingly fearful about expressing their beliefs in the public space, this is a welcome and needed result.
"We are grateful that the judge made the right decision today."