A British religious-rights organization that has focused on relief of persecuted Christians in Muslim lands has a new fight on its hands – fighting for the right to read the Bible in public in England.
Last month, the Barnabas Fund highlighted a video showing London police arresting Allan Coote for reading the Bible in public outside St. Paul’s Cathedral. Police officers claimed that cathedral staff had asked them to do so. Later, an older video emerged from several months ago of a similar event showing police stopping Coote from reading the Bible in public outside St. Paul’s, with what appears to be member of the cathedral management standing close behind the police officers.
Ironically, Coote was reading from the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew chapter 5 which includes the verses: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” (Matthew 5:10-12, KJV)
In each of the videos the police justify their actions by stating that the cathedral staff have asked them to move on those reading from the Bible because the public precinct in front of St Paul’s cathedral is owned by the church. However, in this second video the police officer tells the cathedral staff: “I am of the opinion that this chap isn’t causing any breach of the peace. This chap isn’t impeding anyone. I am happy for him to stay here.”
However, a member of the cathedral staff then tells the police: “The registrar and the dean and the chaplain have given instructions to the head of security that at any time he shows up he should be asked to leave and we are just following those orders.”
The police officer, however. stands his ground and replies: “This chap is reading from the Bible. I feel it would be remiss of me to move him on in a place of worship.”
The Barnabas Fund points out that freedom to read the Bible in public was one of the very first aspects of freedom of religion to be legally established in England. In 1537, just a year after Tyndale had been burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English, King Henry VIII issued a royal decree making it legal to read the Bible publicly. Then on Sept. 5, 1538, his chief minister Thomas Cromwell issued in the king’s name specific injunctions to clergy to place an English Bible in every parish church in the country, ordering them: “That ye shall discourage no man privily or apertly from the reading or hearing of the said Bible, but shall expressly provoke, stir, and exhort every person to read the same, as that which is the very lively word of God, that every Christian man is bound to embrace, believe and follow if he look to be saved.”
“This is part of the very foundation of the Church of England, which was established only four years earlier,” points out the organization. “Yet cathedral authorities are now doing exactly the opposite of what the injunctions to clergy set out in early years of the Church of England.”
The group also says the cathedral authorities have not attempted to move on far more disruptive protestors from the public precinct in front of St. Paul’s. For example, in 2011, the area was occupied by hard left “Occupy London,” anti-capitalism protestors who literally set up camp there for months with the dean of St. Paul’s resigning in protest at legal attempts to evict them, even though the protesters had at one stage forced the closure of the cathedral.
“It seems the cathedral is prepared to tolerate hard-left protesters outside the cathedral for months, but not someone peacefully reading the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in the ‘Sermon on the Mount,” the group said in a statement. “What we are seeing is our heritage of freedom of religion sliding further down a slippery slope. It is important that we look back and see how much freedom has been lost in just the last two decades.”