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London Street Preacher Acquitted of Hate Speech After Preaching Biblical Definition of Marriage

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Left: John Sherwood speaking to police moments before arrest (screengrab via YouTube); Right: Uxbridge Tube Station, where Sherwood's arrest occurred (Edwardx, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

72-year-old street preacher John Sherwood has been cleared of charges of hate speech, a year after an incident in which he was arrested after preaching the traditional definition of marriage in an open air sermon near London’s Uxbridge Underground Station in April 2021. Sherwood, who serves as pastor of Penn Free Methodist Church in north London, was preaching from the book of Genesis.

“God’s design in creating mankind was to set human beings in families, headed by a father and a mother, not by two fathers or by two mothers. The distinction within mankind of just two genders, male and female, made in the image of God, constitutes the essence of God’s created order,” Sherwood said in the sermon.

Police arrived on the scene in response to multiple complaints of “alarm and distress.” Officers warned Sherwood to avoid making any homophobic remarks. 

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In response, Sherwood told the police that “to uphold God’s moral law and to speak about the dangers of sin in respect of LGBT issues implies absolutely no hatred or unpleasantness towards any individual or group of people. Indeed, it is an act of love to one’s neighbor. Nevertheless, the Bible’s description of homosexuality as sinful is plain and clear-cut.”

Pointing out that the LGBTQ Pride parade taking place nearby was affirming beliefs that Christians would find offensive, Sherwood argued that there is no law against offending people. Sherwood then resumed preaching. After bystanders began voicing their displeasure with his message, officers stepped in and took Sherwood into custody. 

During the arrest, which was caught on camera, police and Sherwood can be seen engaged in a mild physical altercation, but Sherwood was ultimately taken into custody without serious incident. While Sherwood was released without charges after being held overnight, he was later charged in September 2021.

“I wasn’t making any homophobic comments. I was just defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. I was only saying what the Bible says. I wasn’t wanting to hurt anyone or cause offense,” Sherwood said after his initial arrest. “I was doing what my job description says, which is to preach the gospel in open air as well as in a church building.”

During the trial, Sherwood’s defense centered on Article 10 of the 1998 Human Rights Act, which guarantees freedom of expression.

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“This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority,” the article says.