Anti-war vicar found guilty of Iraq protest
A magistrate has rejected a vicar's defence that God told him to block a road in protest.
Raymond Gaston was charged with unlawfully obstructing a highway during an anti-war protest in Leeds city centre last October.
Using the argument that his citizenship was first of foremost of the Kingdom of God, his defence was that he had received a call from God to act - and that counted as lawful authority reports the Guardian.
"I have heard God's voice through prayer, through reading the scriptures, through the life of Jesus Christ, and that's my authority for the action I have taken," he told Leeds magistrates court.
Mr Gaston, 41, of All Hallows vicarage in Leeds, was part of a protest on October 31 last year against the impending war on Iraq.
The demonstration blocked Kirkstall Road in the city, causing long delays to rush-hour traffic.
He was arrested but refused to accept a police caution, saying that would mean accepting that what he had done was wrong and he would be willing not to do it again.
Speaking before the court hearing, he said his protest had to be seen in the context of his faith. "Having prayed about the issue, the next step I was being called to take was non-violent direct action," he said.
He pointed out he was not suggesting God had spoken to him directly, but said he was drawn to a particular action as part of a faith community.
Non-violent activists point to a strong biblical mandate for direct action.
Under cross-examination, Mr Gaston accepted that he had caused inconvenience to motorists, but said that people needed to be challenged occasionally.
Michael Wood, presiding, told Mr Gaston that while he accepted that his beliefs were sincere and deeply felt, they did not give him the right to act illegally.
He handed down a six-month conditional discharge and ordered the defendant to pay £200 costs.