A court in London has ruled that a Christian street preacher who was fined and prosecuted by the police for evangelizing during lockdown did not break regulations or do anything illegal.
The London Magistrates Court ruled that Joshua Sutcliffe, 31, is “not guilty” as he “was outside and that he had a reasonable excuse as he was traveling to his place of work, as a worship leader,” said Christian Legal Centre, which supported the preacher, in a statement released Friday.
Sutcliffe was detained and surrounded by four police officers as he was preaching and handing out leaflets in North London’s Camden area on Good Friday last April. He was told he was in breach of COVID-19 lockdown regulations by being outdoors without a reasonable excuse.
Sutcliffe explained to the officers that he was a pastor and worship leader and was outdoors to provide charitable services. However, he was cautioned and received a fixed penalty notice of $80 (£60), according to Premier Christian News.
“Whilst he was in a gathering and therefore in breach of regulation 7, however, the parties were together and were allowed to rely on articles 9, 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights,” the magistrates said in the ruling. “Their gathering was limited in duration, and they were entitled to gather for street evangelizing.”
“They treated me like a second-class citizen,” Sutcliffe was quoted in the statement as saying. “I am a Christian minister of the Gospel, which not so long ago was a treasured and respected vocation in the U.K.”
He added, “During times of need, people need the hope of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what I do on a regular basis, I go to the streets and proclaim the hope and truth of the resurrection of Christ. I was doing this on Good Friday, one of the most important days in the Christian calendar to do this.”
The preacher said he was “very glad the magistrates threw the case out and that reason and justice prevailed.”
Christians in the U.K. have been “easy targets” for the police during the pandemic “while other groups gathering in significant numbers have been favored by the police,” said Andrea Williams, the chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre.
“After being cautioned on Good Friday, Joshua continued to preach, even giving his own shoes to a homeless man and walking home barefoot,” Williams added. “This is what Christian witness should have looked like during this time of crisis — ministering to people’s physical and spiritual needs. Instead, we have seen Christian preachers and pastors, like Joshua, who have a heart for reaching those in great need in their communities fined, arrested and prosecuted for doing so.”
Last month, another Christian street preacher, David McConnell, who was arrested while preaching the Gospel, won his case against a police department that admitted liability in a lawsuit, agreeing to pay $4,500 (£3,250) in damages in addition to his legal costs for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and violating his human rights.
West Yorkshire Police arrested McConnell in December 2019 for “a hate-related public order offense” and “for preaching on gay rights and abortion.”