British street pastor cleared of hate speech charges

by mcardinal

Lauren Moye, FISM NEWS


On April 23, 2021, British police arrested a then 71-year-old man as he proclaimed God’s word in the public streets. His crime? Asserting that God’s plan for families, based on Genesis 1, involved being “headed by a father and a mother, not by two fathers or by two mothers.” One year later finds the elderly street pastor cleared from “hate speech charges.”

Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court acquitted the street pastor from the London-based Penn Free Methodist Church on April 9, 2022. Pastor John Sherwood is now 72 years old.

At the time of his arrest, Sherwood had been preaching from a stepstool on the public streets alongside fellow Penn Free Methodist Church pastor Peter Simpson. The Metropolitan Police officers that responded reported multiple complaints from the public. They warned Sherwood about “homophobic statements” while informing him there is “no freedom to make statements which offend people.”

They subsequently arrested him for a potential violation of Section 5 of the Public Order Act. This code bans “threatening or abusive words or behavior likely to cause harassment, alarm, or distress.”

In the week after the elder man’s arrest, Simpson shared his horror at the scene with readers of the Conservative Woman. “This dignified man of God, who is in his early 70s, was marched off to a nearby police car, as one of the helpers from my church cried out, ‘What has happened to us as a nation that a man can no longer preach from the Bible?'”

Sherwood’s trial began on April 7. In a new blog post written for the Conservative Woman, Simpson said that the trial began with Sherwood receiving permission to swear an oath of honesty on his own Bible instead of reading from the court’s COVID-19 pandemic-era affirmation cards.

The Bible would continue to play an important role in the trial “in that there was so much Scripture quoted in it” according to Simpson. He added, “Pastor Sherwood was determined to impress upon the prosecution that everything that he ever preaches upon is grounded in the final authority of God’s word, the Bible.”

The defense also relied heavily on Article 10 of the 1998 Human Rights Act, which guarantees a right to freedom of expression, including “to hold opinions and to receive and impart information” without law enforcement interference. 

The Penn Free Methodist Church shared a press release, thanking God that justice was done in the court. They also shared, “After the verdict was delivered Pastor Sherwood and his gospel-loving supporters who were present for the trial gathered outside of the courtroom, gave thanks to the Lord in prayer, and sang His praises.”

Simpson closed his version of a press release with one sobering reminder that Americans should also keep in mind: “The freedom given to open-air Christian preachers is the litmus test for the maintenance of our civil liberties generally. So even freedom-loving secularists should be worried when gospel liberties are under assault, and make no mistake, they are under threat, despite this welcome acquittal of a faithful gospel preacher.”