The preacher against homosexuality

In October 2001, an Evangelical Christian preacher called Harry Hammond held up a placard saying, “Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism.” When Hammond refused to stop, a policeman arrested him. Timothy Garton Ash discusses an instructive case.

The case

In October 2001, an Evangelical Christian preacher called Harry Hammond started preaching in a square in Bournemouth, England. He held up a placard saying, “Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism.” The words “Jesus is Lord” were inscribed on each corner. An angry crowd gathered around him, arguing, shouting and even throwing soil at him. At one point, someone tried to pull away his placard, causing him to fall backwards.

When Hammond refused to stop, a policeman arrested him. He was subsequently convicted of an offence under Section 5 of Britain’s Public Order Act 1986, which forbids the display of “any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby”. The conviction was upheld on appeal, on the grounds that Hammond’s words were “insulting”, although the appeal court noted that the sign’s message was “not expressed in intemperate language”.

Author opinion

This conviction was quite wrong. Hammond was expressing his beliefs. These are offensive to many of us, but in a free and diverse society, no one has a right not to be offended. He was not inciting violence. The policeman should have warned and if need be arrested the person using force to pull the placard away from the preacher - not the preacher himself. By tackling the wrong man the police officer was encouraging what in the US is called "the heckler's veto". Shout loudly enough, with menace, and you can close down legitimate debate. This is a textbook example of how the law should not be used.

- Timothy Garton Ash

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Comments (11)

Automated machine translations are provided by Google Translate. They should give you a rough idea of what the contributor has said, but cannot be relied on to give an accurate, nuanced translation. Please read them with this in mind.

  1. it is absurd that gay people demand equality because they are one of the most protected groups. there are so many people whose rights are even more treathened, who suffer various dictatorship and torture, hunger… and we are doomed to listen to those stupid sick ones who celebrate their sickness and emphasise it. had the story been reversed, straight huligans would be in jail, and a hero would be twisted and discriminated gay


  2. Apsurdno i beskrupulozno je da se gejevi zale i zahtevaju neku ravnopravnost,dok su oni evidentno najzasticeniji. Toliko je ljudi koji su svakodnevno diskriminisani,cija su ljudska prava zaista ugrozena,koji trpe razne diktature,glad i nasilje. A mi konstantno slusamo o izopacenim ljudima koji svoju bolest slave i stavljaju na pijedastal.
    Da je prica bila obrnuta,uhapseni bi bili strejt huligani,a heroj nezasticeni i diskriminisani gej.

  3. Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    I agree with the author’s opinion. It is true that everyone can have opinion and make a choice,and I think that Harry had every right to do that. Homosexuality is one of the biggest problems today,and we should be against it. Would you like to live in a world where it will be COMPLETELY approved? I would not. And that is a reason,’cuz Harry should not to be arrested. Even more,violence is not emphasized.

  4. As much as I disagree with his sentiment, he was expressing his opinion in a non-violent manner. He should not have been convicted for exercising his right to free speech.

  5. In my humble opnion I think they’re doing the right thing , because we should like animals respect for once how the nature is .

  6. I am neither for homosexuality, nor against it. In my opinion, it’s the choice of every person how to behave. There is freedom of speech, that’s why the preacher has his own right to write on a placard, what he wanted, moreover, the phrase which was written was rather neutral and the words were not so insulting, as policeman thought. To my mind, if sexual minorities feel better and more happy being together, then why not? As for me, it would be better for policemen to discuss and solve more vital and serious problems than accuse a person in expressing his point of view.

  7. As a man of science rather than a man of religion, I find any allusions to the ‘Lord’ and his opposition to homosexuality offending and provoking. But, in this case, I believe that the preacher had the right to express his beliefs and to call for opposition to homosexuality. Free speech is free speech and this conviction makes me think that recently there has been a growth of double standards in the judicial branch.

  8. What if a priest was holding up a sign “Stop Blacks, Jews and Muslims”? If that were the case, I highly doubt that this would even be contoversial in the least. Of course some might argue (like the priest) that that is different between the two since homosexuality is a choice whereas race is not, however as many homosexuals will argue the choice was not theirs. Therefore I do no see a distinction between the two.
    Moreover, the priest was calling to “stop” homosexuality. And although he did not specifically incite violence he did so indirectly. What does is mean to “stop” homosexuality? I have yet to read of a case when a man or a woman were civilly taught how to not be homosexual. Therefore what the priest was actually calling for was for the persecution of gays or outlawing homosexuality in Britain, both of which would infringe the Human Rights of those with the “wrong” sexual orientation.
    His conviction in my opinon should not be criticized, but rather celebrated as a victory FOR the human rights and the freedom of speech as it was merely another step towards achieving the world where one will not be judged for being different.

    • If the man cannot tell the difference between an act or a choice, viz. homosexuality, and a state of nature or religion, he has no business entering into the debate.
      Jack Dixon

  9. I believe that anyone is free to express themselves, but freedom of speech also means confronting those who think differently from us and, more importantly, predict the impact that words have on the hearer, free to participate. Secondly, the message that I send, as the vehicle? Phrases such as “Stop this” or “That banish” when impacting with a way of being, automatically lead to a strong reaction and dangerous. That is, in my opinion strikes against the rejection or acceptance of the onlookers find? This GAP is the key to the problem. That is, a communication management will be aware from the outset the success of the posts … and then, the fundamental error that has engulfed the poor priest is as follows: If I propose a censure, I will come to 99% censored.

  10. This is undoubtedly correct. The preacher was pacifically exercising his right of free speech. The court was wrong in yielding to the mob. The case is at odds with Beatty v Gillbanks, and Redmond-Bate v DPP.

    More importantly, this case opens the way to the tyranny of the mob.

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