Gay rights activist defends homophobic preacher

By Jonathan Bartley
March 30, 2010

The conviction and £1,000 fine imposed on a homophobic Christian street preacher in Glasgow has been condemned by the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, as "an attack on free speech and a heavy-handed, excessive response to homophobia."

Tatchell, himself from a Christian background, although rejected by some in the churches because of his own sexuality, said in a statement today that the £1,000 fine was excessive and that freedom of speech should be defended, even for homophobes.

His message of love and tolerance is a marked contrast to that of Shawn Holes, the American Baptist evangelist who was touring Britain. He was fined £1,000 for telling passers-by in Glasgow city centre: "Homosexuals are deserving of the wrath of God - and so are all other sinners - and they are going to a place called hell."

In court, he admitted breaching the peace on 18 March by "uttering homophobic remarks" that were "aggravated by religious prejudice".

"Shawn Holes is obviously homophobic and should not be insulting people with his anti-gay tirades. He should be challenged and people should protest against his intolerance," said Mr Tatchell.

"However, in a democratic, free society it is wrong to prosecute him. Criminalisation is not appropriate.

"The price of freedom of speech is that we sometimes have to put up with opinions that are objectionable and offensive.

"Just as people should have the right to criticise religion, people of faith should have the right to criticise homosexuality. Only incitements to violence should be illegal.

"If I had known about this prosecution in advance, I would have gone to court to defend Mr Holes's right to freedom of expression and to urge that the charges against him be dropped.

"Even though I strongly disagree with his views on homosexuality, if he had decided to appeal against either the conviction or the sentence, I would have supported him.

"I urge the police and prosecuting authorities to concentrate on tackling serious homophobic hate crimes, instead of wasting public money on petty, distasteful homophobic ranters," said Tatchell.

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