A street preacher who quoted from the Bible has been fined for using “threatening” language.
Mike Overd, 50 and a former paratrooper, quoted from Leviticus on Taunton high street to state that homosexuality is an “abomination”.
He was fined £200 and ordered to pay £1,200 in costs and compensation by Judge Shamin Qureshi, sitting at Bristol Crown Court.
The judge said Overd “knew full well the power of words to hurt” and claimed he could have used other less offensive parts of the Bible to quote from on the issue of homosexuality.
Initially, the preacher refused to pay £250 in compensation to a gay man he offended and only relented when he was told he would face 45 days in prison if he did not pay the amount.
He was convicted under section five of the Public Order Act, which bans an individual from “using threatening (or abusive) words or behaviour”, Christian Today reported.
Overd has been preaching through a loudspeaker for the past five years in Taunton and has faced previous legal action. He was acquitted of similar charges in 2012.
Judge Qureshi dismissed a similar charge against Overd for harassing Muslims in a “racially aggravated” manner.
Fears have been raised that the ruling amounts to a ban on certain offensive sections of the Bible and undermines free speech.
Libby Towell, a spokeswoman for the Christian Legal Centre, who represented Overd, said: “The judge is effectively censoring the Bible and saying that certain verses aren't fit for public consumption.”
Terry Sanderson, the National Secular Society president, said: “Whilst we all want to encourage public civility, there is a higher principle at stake.
“As long as there is no incitement to violence, then people should be allowed to speak freely without fearing legal repercussions.”
Overd said that he would not tone down his sermons following the sentence.
“I’m going to go straight back now and preach,” he told ITV.