British Café Owner Harassed for Bible DVD

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Law enforcement authorities in the United Kingdom recently informed the owner of a Christian café he had to stop displaying "offensive" words on the wall.

Those words were quotes from the Bible.

Jamie Murray said police threatened to arrest him for playing a Bible DVD in his establishment, because it violated a law against 'insulting' speech.

Police came to the Salt & Light Coffee House in Blackpool, after a complaint about insulting and homophobic material.

The complaint centered on Bible texts that were displayed on a TV screen at the back of the café. A DVD played the entire New Testament on a loop.

Murray said he was stunned by the way police treated him as a criminal, simply for displaying the scriptures.

"Yes, it was quite shocking. It was quite unusual to think you might be breaking the law by playing the Bible," he said.

Police have since given Murray a partial apology, admitting the officer was wrong to tell him displaying Bible verses is a breach of public order laws.

"The officer discussed the matter with the café owner and at no point was he asked to remove any materials or arrested," Lancashire police officials said in a statement.

"It appears that the officer has misinterpreted the public order act and we have apologized to the café owner for any distress we may have caused," they said.

Still, Murray is angry that the investigation ever occurred.

"It's something we thought would happen in Communist countries and certain dictatorships," he said. "And I think before it gets anything like that stage we need to defend the freedom to preach the Bible."

Civil rights groups in the United Kingdom say the case is a perfect example of how hate speech laws can be misinterpreted and misused to restrict free speech.

The Christian Institute is calling for the word "insulting" to be removed from the public order act - a proposal supported by the National Secular Society's Keith Porteous-Wood.

"I think that the case of the cafe owner displaying the Bible exciting the police's involvement illustrates probably more than any other that before how stupid the interpretation of the law is becoming," Porteous-Wood said.

"And I think we need, therefore, to look at the law itself, and we agree in this instance with the Christian Institute that the word "insulting" needs to be taken out of the law," he explained.

The Christian Institute's Mike Judge said Christians in particular are vulnerable to this kind of legislation.

"Once these laws are in place, then you get campaign groups putting a lot of pressure on the police to be seen to be enforcing them," he said.

"And that's why Christians who are simply expressing their beliefs, end up getting arrested and even investigated by the police simply for expressing biblical truth," he noted.

Despite the partial apology, Murray is expected to lodge a formal complaint with the police department.

"It's important that he lodges an official complaint with the police and that these matters are put on record," Judge said. "This case is about being able to publicly display the Bible without the police coming along and telling you that you can't. It's that important."

*Original broadcast Oct. 7, 2011. 

Related Link:

The Christian Institute

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