The Street Preacher v Police Authority

The way, the truth and the life!

Time and again we in our modern society hear of street preachers coming into conflict with the police authorities. It is important that those who engage in this method of evangelism know what their rights are, but also know how God himself would have them to conduct themselves in such circumstances. So if the police approach you what is your response? First and foremost you do what they tell you to do. If they ask you to stop, then stop. Listen carefully to what they have to say. You may disagree with what they are telling you to do, but that doesn’t give you a right to argue with them or be disrespectful towards them. They are in a position of authority and the gospel you proclaim has something to say about your attitude to those are in authority (Titus 3:1). You can reason with them, but ultimately you must obey them.

Your Name and Adress:

So, do you have to give your name and address to a police officer if requested? This has become a regular issue regarding street preachers here in the United Kingdom. It is by no means as black and white as some would have us believe. Handling the police correctly when they come to you, can save you a lot of time and grief.

“Under section 50 of the Police Reform Act, the police DO have powers to take your name and address (but not a date of birth) IF they reasonably believe you have engaged in an anti-social manner. The anti-social behaviour (ASB) is defined as doing something likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to others. Yes, fairly arbitrary. Section 50 powers are sometimes used by the police as a routine or blanket means of obtaining names and addresses, especially during stop and searches. But if the police do not have a genuine and reasonable belief that the person they are dealing with has been involved with ASB, the use of this power would be unlawful.

If you are told to give your details under ‘section 50’:

You need to clarify that they are using the s50 Police Reform Act. If possible, record them saying this. In some circumstances the police have subsequently denied using s50 powers, claiming that people gave their details voluntarily. Ask them to tell you exactly what they believe you have done that constitutes anti-social behaviour. They must have a reasonable belief that you did something likely to cause ‘harassment, alarm or distress’.
If possible film what they do, or record what they say on your mobile phone.
It is not enough for the police to say they believe you are ‘going to’ engage in anti-social behaviour. Section 50 powers do not apply to possible future actions – only if a person ‘has been acting, or is acting in an anti-social manner’.

Refusing to give your details under section S50:

If you refuse to give your name and address you may be arrested, but this is not always the case. Even though the police may threaten to arrest for not providing details they do not always do so. If you are arrested, you may be taken to a police station and charged with an offence under s50. However, in some cases, the police have been known to ‘de-arrest’ if a person gives their details after an arrest. If you are prosecuted, the police will have to provide some evidence to the court that they reasonably believed you had been engaged in the said anti-social behaviour. If they cannot do this, you should not be convicted. If you are convicted you may be fined, but you cannot be imprisoned for breaching s50. Giving a false or inaccurate name and address is also an offence under s50.” “There are a number of laws which make refusal or giving a false name and address to a constable a crime. All have a maximum penalty of a fine. There are also heaps of bye-laws that can penalise you for refusing to give your details. We say all this is incompatible with article 10 & 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The anti-social behaviour is defined as behaviour likely to cause “harassment, alarm or distress” the same as the offence under s5 Public Order Act 1986. A “reasonable belief” of anti social behaviour is all a police officer requires.”

The law is supposed to protect us against arbitrary action by police officers, but it is fairly arbitrary. But the way things are going with street preachers now I think it is important we know and understand where we stand with the police. To “cause harassment, alarm or distress” can and does amount simply to preaching that all men are sinners. We are prey to the general public and in many instances to a wide difference of opinion amongst different police forces, and even police officers themselves. They don’t all use the same yardstick.

I recall back in the day, nearly thirty-five years ago, I was preaching here in Stoke On Trent when a police officer asked me to move. I did. I phoned the chief of police when I got home. I still remember his surname, Spencer. He said emphatically, “Jimmy, we are not against you, but for you.”But if one of my officers tells you to do something, do it, I will always back my officers.” “But if he is wrong we can and will rectify it afterwards.” I have always worked on that basis since. I refuse to develop an attitude that the police are my enemies. They are servants of the public (though I know they don’t always act that way, or get it right). And I do believe we ought to give them due respect. If they tell me to stop preaching and get down, then I do so. Seeking to defuse the situation and respectfully and reasonably to speak with them, without being intimidated. If I believe that what they tell me to do is wrong, then I will most definitely use the necessary channels to make a complaint. But when you start to argue with a police officer before the public you are not going to win. You could end up with an unnecessary arrest and court case. However, if there are specific complaints, i.e., homophobia or Islamaphobia, and a subsequent arrest then that’s a whole different ball game, as we say. I believe as a Christian if I am asked a question pertaining to my faith I must answer it honestly and uncompromisingly and if that gets me in trouble then so be it.

What is a CBO:

The prospect has now arisen of the police possibly applying to a court for a CBO to be placed against a street preacher. “The CBO is an order on conviction, available following a conviction for any criminal offence in the Crown Court, magistrates court, or youth court. A CBO: “Prohibits the offender from doing anything described in the order (which might include a condition preventing specific acts which cause harassment, alarm or distress or preparatory acts which the offending history shows are likely to lead to offences (for example the individual entering a defined area); It requires the offender to do anything described in the order (for example, attendance at a course to educate offenders on alcohol and its effects).

Obeying God is paramount:

As our Lord counsels us, we need to be, “as wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” In these dark days in which we find ourselves the task of the street preacher is not an easy one, our backs are against the proverbial wall. We must not arrogantly stand upon our rights. Remember the One who surrendered his rights to save us from our iniquities (Philippians 2:1-11). We must simply obey the police, afterwards if we have a legitimate complaint we can pursue it through the necessary channels. IF YOU FIGHT THE LAW THE LAW WILL WIN. You may end up with an unnecessary court case, a fine, a CBO even. And may even be guilty of bringing the gospel into disrepute. If you expect people to submit to the authority of your preaching, you yourself must be under God’s authority. That means sent by God mediately by the church and therefore under the authority of your church’s Minister and elders. It saddens me to say but it must be said, there are far too many young men who take up this work on their own accord, not and never having been under the authority of the church nor sent by the church. This is not good nor pleasing to the Lord. Beloved, we ought to be exemplary citizens and above reproach. “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities” (Titus 3:1). “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” 1Peter 2:13-14).


(© James R Hamilton, writtenMarch, 2017)
Sermon Audio

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