15 December 2017

Café owner visited by police for displaying bible verses

Late last year the owner of a Christian café in Blackpool was visited by police when a customer complained that she was offended by verses of Scripture that were on display inside the café. Officers with Lancashire Constabulary told the owner to stop displaying the Bible texts because they breached public order laws in England. Police went to the Salt & Light Coffee House on Layton Road, Blackpool, because the customer said the Bible verses were insulting and homophobic.

The café owner, Jamie Murray, runs the business with a clear Christian ethos. The coffee shop’s title, Salt & Light, is directly taken from the Sermon on the Mount. Evangelistic literature is available on the premises, and the café has links to a local church.

Scripture verses are displayed on a television at the back of the café. Mr. Murray uses a set of DVDs that cycle through the whole of the New Testament verse by verse, with the words appearing onscreen. Mr. Murray mutes the audio.

According to Mr. Murray the policemen did not specify which Bible texts had caused the offence. He says that the officers told him that displaying offensive or insulting words is a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act in England, and told him to stop displaying the Bible.

Mr. Murray said: “I couldn’t believe the police were saying I can’t display the Bible. The officers were not very polite, in fact they were quite aggressive. It felt like an interrogation”.

“I said, “Surely it isn’t a crime to show the Bible?” But they said they had checked with their sergeant and insulting words are a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act. I was shocked”.

“I’m not here to insult or offend anyone, but the Bible is the Bible. We’re always being told that we’re a tolerant and diverse nation. Yet the very thing that gave us those values – Christianity – is being sidelined”.

“I’m not looking to make a name for myself, I’d rather be quietly getting on with running my café. But there comes a time when you have to say enough is enough”.

There is growing concern that police in some areas of the UK are misusing the law to clamp down on words or material that others may find insulting. Even some secular groups are expressing worry about the impact on free speech.

Six years ago the same force, Lancashire Police Constabulary, had to pay out £10,000 compensation to an elderly Christian couple who had been investigated by officers after the couple had telephoned their local council to complain about its policy of promoting homosexuality.

A number of public figures have voiced their support for Mr. Murray’s case. Former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe has warned that it should not be a crime to display Bible verses or disagree with the homosexual agenda.

Writing in the Express newspaper Miss Widdecombe asked the question: “does the Chief Constable of Lancashire want to ban the Bible itself? After all that is the logic of his position if what his force is doing meets with his approval”.

The former MP referred to a number of recent situations where Christians have been penalised because of the Bible.

Northern Ireland politician Jeffrey Donaldson MP raised the issue during Prime Minister’s Question Time, asking: “here in the UK if you display a Bible verse on the wall of a café you face prosecution. Was Ann Widdecombe right when she said that in the 21st century hedgehogs have more rights than Christians?”

A cross-party group of MPs have signed an Early Day Motion at Westminster calling on the Home Secretary to work with senior police officers to ensure that there is no repeat of this incident.

Writing on the Conservative Home blog, Edward Leigh MP said that if people are “allowed to dial 999 every time they feel insulted, the result is a colossal waste of police time and a dangerous chilling effect on freedom of speech”.

Lancashire police have since issued a partial apology to Jamie Murray. Officers admitted that they got the law wrong, and said sorry for the manner of their investigation. However they refused to apologise for launching the investigation in the first place and also denied banning the display of the Bible texts in the café.

Mr. Murray has said that he accepts the apology as far as it goes. He forgives the individual officers for their actions, but believes that some important matters remain unaddressed. Jamie explained that he does not want the police to brush the incident under the carpet, because he is concerned that the same thing could happen to other Christians in future.

Supported by The Christian Institute, Mr. Murray has taken legal advice and lodged a formal complaint with the police.

The Christian Institute is a national charity that exists to defend gospel freedom and liberty of conscience for Christians across the UK. It has worked with street evangelists who have been opposed by public authorities in their outreach work. The Institute also supports individual believers who are unlawfully harassed and discriminated against in their workplaces because of their Christian faith.

Details of some recent Institute cases are available on: www.christian.org.uk. If you, or a Christian you know, is in trouble because of their Christian stand, then contact The Christian Institute’s legal team on 0191 281 5664. We may be able to help.

Callum Webster