A street preacher celebrates triumph after a court threw out a lawsuit against him for disobeying strict COVID regulations
Mike Overd, a Christian preacher and lay pastor, continued to preach in the streets despite the first coronavirus bans on outdoor gatherings in March 2020, when the epidemic began.
The 56-year-old has been a street preacher for more than a decade, handing out Bibles and praying with people as they walk past him.. Even when the government of the United Kingdom forbade gatherings, he continued his activities.
The first Christian preacher to be charged for breaking COVID-19 legislation forbidding outdoor gatherings was confronted by Avon and Somerset police on April 2, 2020, while preaching in Taunton, Somerset.
In response to a citizen complaint, officers told Overd he needed to go home.
Overd, on the other hand, questioned the actions of the officers and refused to return home.
“Offering pastoral assistance” throughout the epidemic while complying to social distance norms of standing slightly over 2 yards (2 meters) apart from others was the job of Overd’s Christian Legal Centre, which defended him in his case.
Following his removal from the premises, Overd inquired as to whether officials were “now prohibiting Christian workers from going to help people?”
Afterwards, the authorities seized Overd’s Bibles and ordered him out of the area. In addition, Overd was fined $83 (£60).
He had to wait more than 547 days before learning that the Crown Prosecution Service had dropped his case after he had appealed the fine.
The Crown Prosecution Service informed Tom Allen of Christian Concern on Sept. 1 that “the prosecution is no longer pursuing in this matter and that the trial planned for Sept. 6 would be abandoned at Weston Magistrates Court,” he told the Christian Post.
When the case was dropped, “it shows that my case and laws in general have been all about control and intimidation,” Overd said in a statement, noting that he was ridiculed and even lost friends over his decision to “bring a message of hope to people struggling at the beginning of this crisis.” Overd’s statement was shared with CP.
“A year-and-a-half on, with harsh restrictions still in place and more Christian preachers being detained than ever before, I knew I was right to take a position and I am delighted to have been vindicated,” he said. It was never right for Christian organizations and congregations to be shut down at a time like this. “Never in our history have so many Christians who attempted to help the most disadvantaged in our communities been treated so harshly by the state.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, “more than 85,000 fixed penalty letters have been issued in England, and 8,000 in Wales,” according to the BBC’s report in April.
Cross-party members of Parliament on the Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded that fines of approximately $14,000 (£10,000) for infringing COVID-19 provisions “are confusing, discriminatory, and unfair,” especially for the poor and those who are “unfairly targeted” by police.
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“We are aware that the police have moved more promptly to enforcement action in recent times,” the report said. ” In view of the ever-changing nature of the law, as well as the government’s confusing messaging, this is a serious issue. Heavy-handed enforcement tactics in these situations could result in unjustly penalizing people for many different behaviors, since there are no adequate protections to protect people from arbitrary and unjustified interferences with their fundamental human rights.”
I knew from the beginning of this outbreak that the police had been given unwarranted power by government,” Overd continued. To sit at home and not go out and preach when people were in need was not right with me.
“Volunteer or philanthropic acts” were cited as a legal defense in Overd’s case, which was originally set for Friday’s court hearing, according to his attorneys.
“The regulations as they were applied by the police officers on that day were disproportionate and constituted an unreasonable interference with Overd’s rights under European law and English common law,” Christian Legal Centre said.
“The coronavirus regulations obliged society to knowingly lose core freedoms,” Christian Legal Centre CEO Andrea Williams said in a statement. Christians who saw the danger in the laws refused to shut down their outreach Christian programs or cease aiding the poor.
She went on to say, “For that many have been disproportionately punished.” When the crisis began, Mike was one of a number of Christian preachers who were threatened and penalized, but who were finally vindicated and told they had done nothing wrong. Evangelical preachers on the streets of the United Kingdom are being detained on a monthly basis because of their work. “This is a new occurrence in our history that has never been seen before,”
Police officers were given unprecedented powers during the pandemic, which set a “hazardous precedent” that is continuing to have an impact, even as normalcy returns.
At the time of this story’s publication, we indicated that the coronavirus restrictions would have far-reaching ramifications for Christian freedoms in the United Kingdom, and this has shown to be the case,” she said.
Christian theologian Martin Parsons testified for the Crown Prosecution Service in favor of Overd’s case, saying that “street preaching is a vital aspect of evangelical Christianity, especially during epidemics.”
An ongoing tradition of street preaching in the United Kingdom, which evangelical Christians consider as a crucial aspect of fulfilling Christ’s charge to preach the Gospel to all people, particularly those who are unlikely to ever attend a church,” stated Parsons. It has been considered as particularly crucial during epidemics to assist men and women find ‘peace with God.'”
Using coronavirus legislation to prohibit street preaching raises important questions relating to the development of religious freedom in British constitutional history, the theologian found.