EDITORIAL: Limiting free speech

Britain throws book at preacher for reading Bible verses

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An American street preacher was arrested the other day in London (or “assisting police with their investigation,” in the famous British euphemism), for reciting in public a Scripture from the Bible.

Tony Miano, a retired Los Angeles County deputy sheriff, was detained outside the Wimbledon tennis complex in London, accused of violating Britain’s 1986 Public Order Act, which bans speech categorized as words that cause “harassment, alarm or distress.” Such distress includes reading aloud from the fourth chapter of First Thessalonians, the New Testament epistle where St. Paul warns against sexual immorality, including homosexual behavior. The arresting officers said this includes “homophobic” language.

In Britain, as here, everyone if free to obey or ignore the scriptural injunctions of preachers, just as they are free to walk on by when someone on the street shouts those verses aloud. Mr. Miano ran afoul of British law when an unidentified woman called the police. “I explained that there was nothing homophobic about my speech because I am not afraid of homosexuals,” said Mr. Miano. “I love homosexuals enough to bring them the truth of the Gospel.”

Mr. Miano was arrested, anyway, held in jail for seven hours, and subjected to a range of questioning usually reserved for IRS investigations of conservatives in America. “I was asked if I believe homosexuality is a sin,” Mr. Miano said. “I was asked what portion of the Bible I was reading. I was asked that if a homosexual was hungry and walked up to me, would I give them something to eat.” When he said he didn’t think he did anything wrong, he was told he wouldn’t be allowed to leave the country while a trial was pending. Who knew a London bobbie is a theologian, too.

Mr. Miano was eventually released without charges, but the incident demonstrates the universal danger of political correctness. The Public Order Act was introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, and it seemed innocuous enough at the time. While few in 1986 would have ever thought of bringing charges against a Christian preacher for reading a Bible verse, in contemporary Britain, calling sin by its name can have delicate Britons reaching for a cell phone to get immediate assistance from Scotland Yard.

Our First Amendment protections of free speech, which to be sure are not available in the mother country, may not be enough to prevent such outrages from happening on our shores. The Supreme Court continues to whittle away constitutional protections to the point where we become more like the old countries whence we all came. A Newseum Institute poll this week found that a third of those questioned think the First Amendment goes “too far” in guaranteeing the right of free speech, up 13 percent from last year.

The solution to so-called offensive speech is more speech and more freedom. Tony Miano learned where the limits of speech lie in Britain. We must pray, while we still can, that he confronts no such restrictions here.

The Washington Times

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