Police ban Bible in Christian cafe

Police in Lancashire told the owner of a Christian café in Blackpool that displaying Bible texts is a breach of public order laws. What planet are they on?!

The café is called the Salt & Light Coffee House. Its owner, Jamie Murray uses a set of DVDs that display the words of the New Testament on a TV screen on the café back wall.

A member of the public told police she was insulted by some of the words. Police officers visited the café on 19th September and, without even reviewing the material, told Mr Murray that displaying the Bible verses was a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act. They told him to stop displaying the material (the whole New Testament) and warned him that they would be watching him.

Police have since changed their minds and given a partial apology. Officers visited the café owner on Tuesday, admitted they got the law wrong, and said sorry for the ‘manner’ of their investigation. But they refused to apologise for launching the investigation and they also denied banning the display of the Bible texts in the café.

Mr Murray says he asked the police whether displaying the Bible texts was a crime, and they indicated he could be arrested if he continued to display the offensive or insulting material.

There also appears to be confusion over which part of the Public Order Act 1986 the police were using to justify their actions. Originally two police officers told My Murray they were investigating a possible Section 5 offence, which outlaws insulting words that are likely to cause distress. But days later the police told the media they were investigating a possible Section 29E offence, which outlaws the broadcasting of offensive material intended to stir up homophobic hatred.

The Christian Institute’s solicitor-advocate, Sam Webster, says that simply displaying Bible texts in a Christian café does not fall within the scope of either offence.

I personally doubt whether the police action was an ‘investigation’ at all given that the police failed to look at the material that allegedly caused offence, or give Mr Murray an opportunity to refute the allegation or explain his position. They seemed to have predetermined that he was in the wrong.

Two questions come to my mind:

  • What action has there been taken to either re-train or discipline the police officers?
  • In what way was the behaviour of the Christiaphobic member of the public challenged?

The Act is long overdue for amendment. The Christian Institute is backing an amendment that would remove the word “insulting” from the offence.

In 2008 a 16-year-old boy was protesting outside a Scientology centre. He faced a criminal trial because he was holding a sign describing Scientology as a “cult”. The police relied upon Section 5 of the Public Order Act. The advocacy group, Liberty, took up his case amid widespread criticism of the police.

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