Last updated at 1:32 AM on 25th September 2011
Police have threatened a Christian cafe owner with arrest –for displaying passages from the Bible on a TV screen.
Jamie Murray was warned by two police officers to stop playing DVDs of the New Testament in his cafe following a complaint from a customer that it was inciting hatred against homosexuals.
Mr Murray, 31, was left shocked after he was questioned for nearly an hour by the officers, who arrived unannounced at the premises.
He said he had turned off the Bible DVD after an ‘aggressive inquisition’ during which he thought he was going to be arrested and ‘frog-marched out of the cafe like a criminal’.
But he added: ‘I have now checked on my rights and I am not going to be bullied by the police and the PC lobby out of playing the Bible silently in my cafe. It’s crazy. Christians have to stand up for what they believe in.’
The Salt and Light cafe in Blackpool has for years repeatedly played the entire 26-hour-long Watchword Bible, a 15-DVD set produced in America in which a narrator reads the whole of the New Testament, on a small flatscreen TV on the back wall.
The sound is turned down but the words flash on to the screen against a series of images.
The cafe, which opened eight years ago, also prides itself on being an oasis of calm in a high-crime area of Blackpool.
Mr Murray said the two uniformed officers from Lancashire Constabulary arrived at lunchtime on Monday, the cafe’s busiest time of day. WPC June Dorrian, the community beat manager, told him there had been a complaint and he was breaching the Public Order Act 1986.
Mr Murray said: ‘I told them that all that appeared on the screen were the words of the New Testament. There is no sound, just the words on the screen and simple images in the background of sheep grazing or candles burning. I thought there might be some mix-up but they said they were here to explain the law to me and how I had broken it.
‘I said, “Are you really telling me that I am facing arrest for playing the Bible?” and the WPC fixed me with a stare and said, “If you broadcast material that causes offence under the Public Order Act then we will have to take matters further. You cannot break the law.” ’
Mr Murray, who worked in a homeless shelter for five years before taking over the cafe three months ago, said he realised the only way to appease the police was to pull the plug on the Bible.
‘I was worried about being handcuffed and led out of the shop in front of my customers. It wouldn’t have looked good so I thought it was better to comply. It felt like a betrayal. They left the shop and told me they would continue to monitor if we were displaying inflammatory material. At no stage had they spoken to me like I was a law-abiding citizen trying to earn a living. I felt like a criminal.’
Mr Murray said he had been given no indication of who had complained or which verses of the New Testament had caused the offence, but he guessed it may have been a reaction to the Book Of Romans that had been playing the week before. The Book takes the form of a letter from the apostle Paul to the people of Rome, in which he rails against all manner of godlessness.
In verses 26-28 of Chapter One he says: ‘God let them follow their own evil desires. Women no longer wanted to have sex in a natural way, and they did things with each other that were not natural.
‘Men behaved in the same way. They stopped wanting to have sex with women and had strong desires for sex with other men. They did shameful things with each other, and what has happened to them is punishment for their foolish deeds.’
The verses take 30 seconds to play and the Bible translation used is the 2005 Contemporary English Version (CEV), a plain English text by the American Bible Society.
Experts at the British Bible Society, whose patron is the Queen, have described it as a well-respected text that, while using straightforward language, fairly reflected the meaning of the original.
The Christian Institute, which is supporting Mr Murray, said its lawyers had told him he is free to display the Bible in any way he chooses, and they are preparing a complaint against the police. The Institute’s spokesman Mike Judge said: ‘I have no problem with the police looking into a complaint, but once they realised it was just the words of the Bible being shown on the screen then they should have walked away.
‘They did not even look at the offending DVD. They simply told Mr Murray that he had to stop showing the Bible and warned him that they would continue to monitor what he was doing. This is intimidatory and completely unacceptable.
‘It is a problem right across the country that the police are under huge political pressure to be seen to respond to anything homophobic.’
Lancashire Police said they had received a complaint on Saturday afternoon from a female customer who was ‘deeply offended’ by the words she had seen on the screen.
A spokesman said they were ‘duty bound’ to respond to the complaint and had concluded the cafe could be in breach of Section 29E of the Public Order Act, which warns that people who play images or sounds that stir up hatred against homosexuals could be guilty of an offence.
However, it also says criticism of sexual conduct ‘shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred’.
A police spokesman said: ‘At no point did the officer ask the cafe owner to remove any materials or arrest the man and we took a commonsense and objective approach in dealing with the complaint. We believe our response and the action we took was completely proportionate and our officers are always available should the cafe owner want to discuss the matter or need any advice in the future.
‘The Constabulary is respectful of all religious views. However, we do have a responsibility to make sure that material that communities may find deeply offensive or inflammatory is not being displayed in public.
‘No complaint has been received about the conduct of the officer in question and we are satisfied that they performed their duties professionally.’