“I felt deeply shocked and humiliated that I had been arrested in my own town and treated like a common criminal in front of people I know," he told the Telegraph. “My freedom was taken away on the hearsay of someone who disliked what I said, and I was charged under a law that doesn't apply.” Police allege that McAlpine made the remark in a voice loud enough to be overheard and that he used abusive or insulting language, forbidden by the Public Order Act. Christian groups have expressed alarm over this and similar incidents, claiming the 1986 law was designed to stop rioters and hooligans and is now being used to curb religious speech.
“The police have a duty to maintain public order but they also have a duty to defend the lawful free speech of citizens,” said Sam Webster, solicitor-advocate of the Christian Institute, which is supporting McAlpine. It is not a crime to express the belief that homosexuality is a sin, Webster told the Telegraph. “Case law has ruled that the orthodox Christian belief that homosexual conduct is sinful is a belief worthy of respect in a democratic society."
One man was convicted under the Public Order Act in 2002 for holding up a sign saying, “Stop immorality. Stop Homosexuality. Stop Lesbianism. Jesus Is Lord,” while preaching in Bournemouth. Another was arrested in 2006 for handing out religious leaflets at a Gay Pride festival in Cardiff, but the case was later dropped.
“It would appear that Christianity, the normative faith of this country on which its morality, values and civilisation are based, is effectively being turned into a crime,” Melanie Phillips of The Daily Mail wrote in a May 3 column titled, “The British boot stamping on the face of Christian belief.”
“Surreally, this intolerant denial of freedom is being perpetrated under the rubric of promoting tolerance and equality — but only towards approved groups,” Phillips wrote. “Never has George Orwell’s famous satirical observation, that some people are more equal than others, appeared more true.”