English Cafe Owner Threatened with Arrest for Display Anti-Gay Bible Verses?

The Mail Online reports:

Police have threatened a Christian cafe owner with arrest –- for displaying passages from the Bible on a TV screen….

The Salt and Light cafe in Blackpool has for years repeatedly played the entire 26-hour-long Watchword Bible, a 15-DVD set produced in America in which a narrator reads the whole of the New Testament, on a small flatscreen TV on the back wall….

The sound is turned down but the words flash on to the screen against a series of images….

Mr Murray said the two uniformed officers from Lancashire Constabulary arrived at lunchtime on Monday, the cafe’s busiest time of day. WPC June Dorrian, the community beat manager, told him there had been a complaint and he was breaching the Public Order Act 1986….

[Mr Murray said.] ‘I said, “Are you really telling me that I am facing arrest for playing the Bible?” and the WPC fixed me with a stare and said, “If you broadcast material that causes offence under the Public Order Act then we will have to take matters further. You cannot break the law.” ’ …

Murray said that he suspected the offending passage was from Romans 1:26-28, “God let them follow their own evil desires. Women no longer wanted to have sex in a natural way, and they did things with each other that were not natural. Men behaved in the same way. They stopped wanting to have sex with women and had strong desires for sex with other men. They did shameful things with each other, and what has happened to them is punishment for their foolish deeds.” The police, according to the Mail Online article, “said they had received a complaint on Saturday afternoon from a female customer who was ‘deeply offended’ by the words she had seen on the screen,” and “[a] spokesman said they were ‘duty bound’ to respond to the complaint and had concluded the cafe could be in breach of Section 29E of the Public Order Act, which warns that people who play images or sounds that stir up hatred against homosexuals could be guilty of an offence.” According to the police spokesman,

At no point did the officer ask the cafe owner to remove any materials or arrest the man and we took a commonsense and objective approach in dealing with the complaint. We believe our response and the action we took was completely proportionate and our officers are always available should the cafe owner want to discuss the matter or need any advice in the future.

The Constabulary is respectful of all religious views. However, we do have a responsibility to make sure that material that communities may find deeply offensive or inflammatory is not being displayed in public.

No complaint has been received about the conduct of the officer in question and we are satisfied that they performed their duties professionally.

For examples of how the “hostile public accommodations environment” theory could be used in America to accomplish similar results see the Tom English’s Bar case and the various other cases mentioned here, as well as my former student Daniel Koontz’s Hostile Public Accomodations Laws and the First Amendment article. I think liability on such a theory in the U.S. would violate the First Amendment, but so far there has been little discussion of this question in the cases (partly because such cases are still comparatively rare).

Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer.

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