.- In a case which has disturbed religious freedom advocates, a preacher in the English town of Workington was reportedly arrested for describing homosexual conduct as a sin after a public sermon.
A Baptist from Workington, the 42-year-old Dale McAlpine was preaching in the town on April 20. He said he never spoke about homosexuality during his public sermon, which was delivered from the top of a stepladder, the Telegraph reports.
McAlpine said that he later quietly listed homosexual practice among a number of sins referred to in 1 Corinthians during a debate with a woman passerby.
She was then approached by a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO), who spoke with her briefly.
The officer approached McAlpine and identified himself as a homosexual who was a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender liaison officer. He said a complaint had been made against the Baptist.
According to McAlpine, the PCSO warned him not to say homosexual conduct is sinful because it would be a crime. The preacher told the officer that it is not a crime to describe same-sex practice as a sin.
Police officers later arrived on the scene during another of McAlpine’s sermons. They arrested him and charged him with causing “harassment, alarm or distress” contrary to Section 5 of the Public Order Act. They claim he made the alleged offending remark in a voice loud enough to be overheard by others.
According to the Telegraph, the act was introduced in 1986 to tackle violent rioters and football hooligans. Its use against a preacher has caused concerns among Christians that it is being used to curb religious free speech.
At the police station, law officers took McAlpine’s finger prints, a palm print, a retina scan and a DNA swab. He was later interviewed and released on bail on the condition that he did not preach in public.
“I felt deeply shocked and humiliated that I had been arrested in my own town and treated like a common criminal in front of people I know," the preacher told the Telegraph.
“My freedom was taken away on the hearsay of someone who disliked what I said, and I was charged under a law that doesn't apply.”
McAlpine is being defended by The Christian Institute. Its solicitor-advocate Sam Webster said in a statement that it is not a crime to express the belief that homosexual conduct is a sin.
“A Christian who stands in a public place and expresses his religious beliefs in the hope of persuading passers-by of his views – that is freedom of speech,” Webster stated. “Case law has ruled that the orthodox Christian belief that homosexual conduct is sinful is a belief worthy of respect in a democratic society,” Webster insisted.
Acknowledging the police’s duty to maintain public order, he said they also have a duty to defend “the lawful free speech of citizens.”
“It’s not for police to decide whether Mr. McAlpine’s views are right or wrong,” he added.
McAlpine pleaded not guilty at a preliminary hearing last Friday. He is now awaiting a trial date.