Another hate-spewing crank arrested, another blow to free speech

Last week, a Christian preacher was arrested and charged in Dundee in Scotland for ‘breach of the peace with homophobic aggravation’. Tony Miano, a former Los Angeles deputy sheriff, was preaching about sexual immorality to largely indifferent passers-by and a small number of hecklers on Dundee High Street when he was approached by two police officers. Miano’s colleague, who had been filming him preaching, was ordered to stop and had his camera confiscated.

According to his charge sheet, Miano’s preaching constituted behaving in a ‘threatening or abusive manner which was likely to cause a reasonable person to suffer fear or alarm in that you did repeatedly shout and utter homophobic remarks’ [my emphasis]. Clearly, a right-thinking member of the public – or a ‘reasonable person’ – took issue with Miano preaching that it is a sin to practise homosexuality and decided to dob him in. (Although, a quick perusal of Miano’s website reveals that he believes that almost all forms of sexual activity and indeed human activity in general are sinful; so perhaps it’s not that surprising that homosexuality makes the list.)

Miano remarked to the police that some of his hecklers on that afternoon had shouted extremely crude insults at him and had ‘uttered blasphemies’ which he found offensive. Yet, he huffed, no one would expect the police to arrest them. Indeed, in the eyes of the police, a Bible-bashing homophobe is not a ‘reasonable person’, and thus unworthy of the same protection.

This is not the first time that Tony Miano has been arrested in the UK for the content of his street preaching. In July of last year he was detained in Wimbledon, south London under section 5 of the Public Order Act for ‘harassment alarm or distress’. However, he was later released without charge.

It is nothing new for street preachers to spout archaic – and often offensive – nonsense in public places. However, in the past people just tended to ignore them or, if they were really riled, engage them in an argument. Today, it seems, there is such little faith in people’s ability to hear things they don’t like without curling up into a quivering ball, that when someone dares to articulate a controversial view in public they can reasonably expect to be scooped up by the cops.

If we cannot speak our minds in public without fear of the easily offended calling the rozzers, then freedom of speech is in a highly perilous state.

Rossa Minogue is a documentary maker based in London.

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