LONDON – A street preacher has been awarded more than $6,000 in damages after a judge ruled it was wrong for police to arrest and handcuff him for speaking out against homosexuality.
Anthony Rollins, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome, was preaching in Birmingham city center in June 2008 when a member of the public, John Edwards, took offense at comments he made describing homosexual conduct as morally wrong.
According to the Christian Institute, which backed Rollins' case, police arrived on the scene after receiving a call from Edwards and PC Adrian Bill proceeded to handcuff Rollins without any further inquiry.
Birmingham County Court ruled on Wednesday that PC Bill had committed assault and battery against Rollins by handcuffing him unnecessarily.
Judge Lance Ashworth QC said in his ruling on Wednesday that the arrest demonstrated a "lack of thoughtfulness."
PC Bill, the judge ruled, had made the arrest "as a matter of routine without any thought being given to Rollins' Convention Rights", which pertain to free speech and religious liberty.
After his arrest, Rollins was taken by PC Bill to the station where he was held for three hours but never questioned for his account of events.
He was charged with breaching Section 5 of the Public Order Act but the charges were dropped before the case came to trial.
Rollins decided to sue West Midlands Police after a complaint he made to the Independent Police Complaints Commission about his treatment was rejected.
His claims of wrongful arrest, unlawful imprisonment, assault and battery, and the infringement of his human rights were upheld by the court on Wednesday.
Testifying in court, Rollins said he had felt "shocked and very humiliated" when the police marched him away in handcuffs.
He said that when he had tried to speak to PC Bill after his arrest he was told to "shut it."
Mike Judge, of the Christian Institute, said: "Street preachers may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it is part of our Christian heritage. Most people just walk on by and ignore it. The police have no business arresting Christians for quoting the Bible.
"Whether you agree with Rollins' beliefs or not, surely we all value free speech. Christians are tired of being put on trial for their beliefs. There is clearly a problem with the Public Order Act and it needs fixing."
Section 5 of the Public Order Act makes it an offense to use "threatening, abusive or insulting" words or behavior in a way that could alarm or distress another person.
The law has led to the arrest of several Christians over comments they made expressing their religious beliefs.
Last year, Christian hotel owners Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang were brought before the courts after they "insulted" a Muslim guest during a conversation in which they expressed their concerns about the status of Islamic women. They were eventually found not guilty of a religiously aggravated public order offense.
Earlier in the year, Christian street preacher Dale Mcalpine was arrested after telling a community police officer that he believed homosexuality to be a sin. The charges were later dropped.
The Christian Institute is calling upon the Government to repeal the word "insulting" from Section 5 of the Public Order Act when the Freedom Bill passes through Parliament in the coming months.
Writing on the ConservativeHome website this week, Judge said removing "insulting" from the law would not interfere with the police's ability to deal with genuine public disorder.
"Free speech is a bedrock principle of any true democracy. That freedom is worthless unless it encompasses the dissenting opinion, the awkward belief, the uncomfortable truth," he said.
"This freedom doesn't just protect the speaker. It ensures that you, I and everyone has the freedom to hear, the freedom to listen, the freedom to weigh up competing ideas for ourselves.
"If anyone feels insulted and distressed by that, sorry but that's the price of living in a free society."