A while ago I criticised Peter Tatchell for calling for statutory regulation of the press – or in other words state censorship. Yet he has got it absolutely right on the recent conviction of an evangelical preacher for speaking against homosexuality. Tatchell writes:
The conviction and £1,000 fine imposed on a homophobic Christian street preacher in Glasgow must be condemned [as] an attack on free speech and a heavy-handed, excessive response to homophobia. Shawn Holes, an American Baptist evangelist touring Britain, 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”.
Mr 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. 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.