Christian group says guidance needed on freedom of speech

Jun 3 <http://www.birmingh news/west- midlands- news/2008/ 06/03/>
2008 By Neil Connor, Chief Reporter

Two Christian preachers who claim they were stopped from handing out Bible
extracts in a Muslim area of Birmingham are calling on police to state
clearly their policy on freedom of speech.

Arthur Cunningham and Joseph Abraham, from the Grace Bible Fellowship
Church, in Saltley, had been distributing leaflets in nearby Alum Rock when
a police community support officer (PCSO) intervened.

The pair claimed the PCSO warned them to leave the area as they were
committing a hate crime by trying to convert Muslims.

West Midlands Police has investigated the complaint and said the officer
intervened with the best of intentions to defuse a “heated argument”.
The force, however, did give the PCSO “guidance” around what constitutes a
hate crime after the incident.

But the two Christians claim that residents in Alum Rock still believe they
are not permitted to preach in the neighbourhood as the police have not told
them otherwise.

The Christian Institute, which is backing the men’s legal claims against
West Midlands Police for infringing their civil liberties, is calling on
Chief Constable Paul Scott-Lee to publicly state that the actions of the
PCSO were wrong.

Mr Cunningham also said the police should issue a public statement outlining
the rights that people of all religions have for freedom of speech.
He said: “We want to have some kind of statement from the police saying that
what happened was incorrect.

“We want something that we can show to the people of Alum Rock to say that
what we are doing is not illegal. The police have said to us that it is not
illegal, but we are still being told when we go to Alum Rock that we are not
allowed to speak to people.”

Mr Cunningham also criticised the police investigation into the incident as
the force did not speak to witnesses. He said the force is refusing to
apologise for the incident and the men have been told to go to the
Independent Police Complaints Commission if they want their claims to be
investigated further.

Christian Institute spokesman Mike Judge said: “The action West Midlands
Police has taken does not reflects the seriousness of this incident and,
because of this, the Chief Constable should issue a public apology.

“But because the police are refusing to do this, these two Christians have
no option but to take this issue to court as they have had their civil
liberties infringed.”

The Christians claimed they were warned by the PCSO to leave the area. They
alleged he said: “If you come back here and get beat up, well you have been

They also claimed that the Muslim PCSO started ranting at them about George
Bush and American foreign policy when he realised that the were from the US.
The pair have demanded an apology and damages.

The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, recently said
communities dominated by radical Islam give a hostile reception to
Christians and those from other faiths.

A West Midlands Police spokeswoman said the complaint had been investigated
by the force. She said: “The investigation concluded that the PCSO acted
with the best of intentions when he intervened to diffuse a heated argument
between two groups of men.”

The spokeswoman added that following the investigation the PCSO had been
offered “guidance around what constitutes a hate crime as well as his
communication style”.

Town halls should consider mapping their areas religion by religion to help
combat Muslim extremism, the Government suggested today.
Guidance to local councils suggested the move as part of a wide-ranging
package to identify and challenge Islamists, including a new national
“de-radicalisation” programme.

The scheme will seek to reverse the process of indoctrination carried out by
al Qaida-related extremists, using unnamed “specialised techniques”.

The document also said councils should make sure they have systems to remove
funding or other support from inappropriate groups.

The guidelines said: “A deeper understanding of local communities should be
developed to help inform and focus the programme of action – this may
include mapping denominational backgrounds and demographic and
socio-economic factors.”

Local groups that challenge the messages of violent extremists should be
supported, it went on. But councils should be prepared to ask police to vet
anyone involved in projects that receive government anti-radicalisation
funding, it urged.

If a group is found to be promoting violent extremism, local agencies and
the police should consider disrupting or removing funding, and deny access
to public facilities, the document added.

The Home Office announced an extra £12.5 million will be available this year
specifically to help institutions or individuals which may be vulnerable to

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: “The national security challenges we face
demand fresh approaches. A key element of our strategy aims to stop people
getting involved in extremist violence.

“We are investing at local level to build resilient communities, which are
equipped to confront violent extremism and support the most vulnerable

The measures on “de-radicalisation” are based on examples overseas and on a
scheme in Leicester which “aims to encourage young people to feel more
valued and to eradicate myths and assumptions which lead to young people
becoming alienated and disempowered” .


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