Prime Minister Theresa May used the occasion of a Shrove Tuesday reception to speak of the importance of the Christian faith in British society.

A Strong Tradition of Religious Tolerance

The Prime Minister said:

“We have a very strong tradition in this country of Religious Tolerance and Freedom Of Speech and our Christian heritage is something we can all be proud of, and we must continue to ensure that people can speak about their faith and that absolutely includes their faith in Christ.”

Christians Convicted

Mrs May's comments come on the same day that two street preachers were found guilty of public order offences after preaching in Bristol.

Michael Overd, 52, of Taunton and 50-year-old Michael Stockwell, of New York, USA were arrested on Wednesday, 6th July 2016 and convicted on 28th February 2017.

They were both fined £300 and will have to pay a victim surcharge of £30. Joint court costs of £3,372 were also awarded against them.

Chief Inspector Andy Williams said: "The police have to strike the balance between the right to freedom of expression and free speech and behaviour that causes a member of the public to feel harassed, alarmed or distressed as a result of what is said or done.”

"Bristol is a diverse city which is proudly respectful and tolerant of different perspectives and views and this conviction underlines our commitment to work with the community to keep the city free from hate and intolerance."

Tolerance Under Threat?

The comments by the Prime Minister strike an obvious contrast with those of the Chief Inspector, and raise the question of where the line on freedom of speech must be drawn.

As the Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, Andrea Williams, points out:

"The Bible and its teachings are the foundation of our society and provided many of the freedoms and protections that we still enjoy today. So it is extraordinary that the prosecution, speaking on behalf of the state, could say that the Bible contains abusive words which, when spoken in public, constitute a criminal offence.”

Andrea Williams went on to say:

"Robust debate is sometimes necessary, especially when objections are being raised or abuse hurled.

We shouldn't be afraid of it. The aggressive treatment of Mr Overd and his friends by the police and prosecution is shocking." ..."'Offence' is a very subjective thing and is easily manipulated to shut down viewpoints that people simply don't like. Any suggestion that there is a right not to be offended must be strongly resisted. In today's democracy, we need the freedom to debate, challenge and disagree.”

Michael Overd has spoken of the the circumstances of his arrest in this video: