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UK gov’t admits it was wrong for prosecutors to say parts of the Bible are ‘no longer appropriate'

John Dunn
John Dunn |

Prosecutors in the United Kingdom have admitted it was “inappropriate” for them to argue in a case against a Christian street preacher that some parts of the Bible are “simply no longer appropriate in modern society and which would be deemed offensive if stated in public.”

The Crown Prosecution Service made the statement in relation to a case against John Dunn, a 55-year-old cancer survivor from Swindon who was arrested in November 2020 for alleged “homophobia” after preaching on Swindon High Street.

Last week, about a month after the CPS had to drop the charges against Dunn, a non-affiliate parliamentarian, Baroness Hoey, raised a question about the statement in the House of Lords, according to Christian Legal Centre, which represented the street preacher.

Hoey asked what assessment the government had made of the written statement by the CPS.

The Wessex Area CPS has “undertaken a post-case review and acknowledges that the statement was inappropriate,” Lord Stewart of Dirleton from the Conservative Party, who is the advocate general for Scotland, was quoted as replying.

“[T]he statement was not intended to and does not represent a change to published CPS Policy. It is not indicative of a general approach by the CPS to cases involving the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the right to freedom of expression,” Lord Steward stated. “In future … in cases where there is scope for argument to arise as to rights such as that of freedom of expression, such arguments will be submitted to the Senior District Crown Prosecutor for signing off, prior to service.”

Responding to the news, Dunn said: “I am pleased that the government has recognized that the arguments made against me by the CPS were wrong. I faced the prospect of criminal conviction for over two years on these grounds. I hope what has happened will protect other Christians who find themselves unfairly on the wrong side of the law for speaking biblical truth.”

The case against Dunn was thrown out last month after the two female complainants reportedly "refused to engage with the case" after making the initial allegations, CLC said earlier.

Dunn, who has served in the British Army's Special Forces, often refers to Genesis 1 while preaching to state that human beings are made in God's image, male and female, and that marriage between one man and one woman is God's purpose and pattern for the good of society.

He preaches despite having lost his voice box following throat cancer.

"Before I became a Christian, I hated people, I served with the Special Forces and I made it my mission to learn how to best kill people, that was my job," Dunn said in an earlier statement.

"But when I met Jesus Christ, He changed my heart, took away my hatred and filled it with love. Jesus was the answer for me, and I believe the world needs to know and experience this hope. That is why I do what I do, to help everyone to find the light of Jesus out of the darkness we all live in."

On Nov. 1, 2020, Dunn was preaching when two women walked past him holding hands. He told them, "I hope you are sisters," to which they replied they were in a same-sex marriage. Dunn then quoted 1 Corinthians 6, saying, "It says in the Bible that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God."

The women reported Dunn to the police, describing his comments as "biblical speak." They also alleged he shouted at them that they "will burn in Hell," which he categorically denies.

Dunn voluntarily went to the police station for an interview and was allegedly told that if he tried to leave, he would be arrested. Dunn was then charged under Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

The Crown Prosecution Service alleged he committed hate speech because he "offended" and "upset" a member of the public. CLC contends that the law states that to be charged with a hate speech crime, Dunn would have had to use "threatening or abusive words or behavior, or disorderly behavior."

Lawyers for the prosecution then argued that prosecuting Dunn was "necessary" and "proportionate" because "[t]here are references in the Bible which are simply no longer appropriate in modern society and which would be deemed offensive if stated in public."

The prosecution's lawyers cited references to slavery in Exodus and Leviticus and references to capital punishment, though those references had nothing to do with what is alleged to have been said by Dunn. 

Christian theologian Martin Parsons, an independent consultant who serves as an expert witness in the U.K. court system testifying on the persecution of Christians, then provided expert evidence in response to the prosecution's argument. He said the Bible has been read on the streets of England since the early 16th century.

"Public reading of the Bible was actually the first aspects of freedom of religion to be developed in England after the Reformation," Parsons said, citing how the King James Bible played a specific role in coronation services.

During the 1953 coronation service, Queen Elizabeth II was presented with a copy of this Bible.

"The Bible has had a unique status within British constitutional history," Parsons said. "The suggestion by the crown that there are parts of the Bible 'which are simply no longer appropriate in modern society and which would be deemed offensive if stated in public,' is one that, if accepted, would have significant constitutional implications."

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