A British court has overturned the conviction of street preacher Dave McConnell who was reported to counter-terrorism for alleged “misgendering” by refusing to say a man is a woman.
Leeds Crown Court overturned McConnell’s conviction, ruling that the Crown (prosecution) had not proved its case and that “it is not an offense to insult someone,” said the U.K.-based group Christian Concern, whose arm Christian Legal Centre supported the Christian preacher’s case, in a statement to The Christian Post on Thursday.
McConnell, 42, from Wakefield, was appealing a conviction under the Public Order Act 1986 for “insulting” a member of the public in Leeds City Centre in June 2021 by “misgendering” a biological male who identified as a “trans woman.”
He was convicted in August 2022.
Appealing the conviction, McConnell’s lawyer argued that the police response was unlawful, disproportionate and interfered with his Article 9 and 10 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Recorder Anthony Hawks (who determines claims and delivers judgments at a trial) said that while McConnell “misgendering” the complainant did cause them distress, they needed to prove he intended to cause distress. “It is not an offense to insult someone.”
Anthony added, “McConnell said he had no such intent, he says he goes out preaching the Word of God and the last thing he wants to do is upset. He said he was not intending distress, just repeating what he genuinely believed to be the Bible’s teaching.”
He concluded, “We live in a time of free speech.”
McConnell, the first street preacher to be convicted for such an offense and reported as a potential “terrorist,” had been assaulted, abused, and had his belongings stolen while preaching, the group noted.
Despite there being no legal obligation to use a trans person’s chosen pronouns in the U.K., McConnell was convicted and ordered to pay $734 (£620) and do 80 hours of community service, it said, adding he was also reported to the government’s counter-terrorism watchdog, Prevent, by the Probation Service.
After the ruling, McConnell said he was “delighted and relieved” that he could clear his name but was “appalled” by how he had been treated.
CLC’s CEO Andrea Williams called the case a “disturbing trend” in society and accused the police of failing to provide Christian preachers with impartial protection.
While preaching in Briggate, Leeds, a pedestrianized area of the city, McConnell was asked by a man who self-identified as a “trans woman” whether God accepted the LGBT community. The preacher said, “No, God hates sin. So, this gentleman asked a question ...” Members of the crowd interrupted him, shouting, “She’s a woman!” McConnell replied, “No, this is a man,” prompting a female member of the crowd to shout back, “She’s just as much a woman as me!”
Despite the interruption, McConnell continued to calmly preach about what the Bible says regarding sexual sin and homosexuality, referring to the individual as “this gentleman” and a “man in women’s clothes.”
In June 2021, a Liverpool County Court awarded $4,500 plus legal costs to McConnell, who was earlier arrested by West Yorkshire Police in December 2019 for “a hate-related public order offense” and “for preaching on gay rights and abortion.” He was preaching the Gospel when some passersby began to heckle him, asking him questions about sexuality and abortion while he had not mentioned either subject.