Who ya gonna call when Christians get arrested?
Andrea Williams, UK crusader for freedom of speech, heads down under
Making sure that Christians do not get marginalised is the mission of UK barrister Andrea Williams. Last month, street preachers Michael Overd and Michael Stockwell successfully appealed their convictions under the UK’s Crime and Disorder Act for quoting the King James Bible in a shopping centre. Williams heads the Christian Legal Centre (CLC) which supported the two preachers.
Williams is currently touring Australia for the campaigning organisation, Family Voice Australia. Her tour is called “Not Ashamed” – a slogan of Christian Concern, the advocacy organisation she also heads. Her organisations run legal cases and campaign on marriage, free speech, and family issues.
“When I was studying I did not think I would be before the European Court of Human Rights…” – Andrea Williams
Williams tells Eternity she has been defending Christians since she became a barrister in 1988. “For 30 years I have been working in cases where Christians speaking out their faith in Jesus Christ find themselves punished,” she explains. “When I was studying I did not think I would be before the European Court of Human Rights defending Christians who have lost their jobs or were threatened with the loss of their jobs for simply wearing a cross, or as a result of offering prayers believing marriage is between a man and a woman.”
According to Williams, CLC advises street preachers in the UK every week, with ten cases going to court and gaining acquittals. “Although the arrests are coming through thick and fast, we have been able to argue freedom of speech principles in the courts and we have had a 100 per cent success rate.”
“The street preachers are bringing the good news of Christ into the world.” – Andrea Williams
“That’s due, in part, to our advising street preachers that they should be recording their preaching. As a result of this, there is a record which the court cannot argue with. The street preachers are bringing the good news of Christ into the world.”
“But sometimes they are arrested and they spend up to 24 hours in the cells.”
The National Secular Society, a CLC opponent in many court cases, describes Williams as an “ace propagandist.” Williams’ advocacy organisation Christian Concern has campaigned hard on abortion. In the UK, where same-sex marriage is legal, Christian Concern’s campaigning on that issue is largely focussed in the General Synod (church parliament) of the Church of England, which has a strong liberal lobby.
“But we are simply speaking the truth.” – Andrea Williams
“In our nation, and also in Australia, we have moved away from the the great Christian heritage that we have in our education systems, our health systems, our parliamentary systems, to a human-centric set of principles,” says Williams. “We have a humanistic model which says it is neutral, which it is not.
“This means that Christians who speak of Jesus Christ and his righteousness in the public space, who speak of Jesus in a hospital or who are unable to facilitate an abortion, are often labelled bigoted or over zealous. But we are simply speaking the truth.”
Christian Concern takes a strong stance. Its head of Public Theology, Dr Joe Boot, recently criticised John Stevens, who is National Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical churches in the UK (a conservative group, similar to the Sydney Anglican Diocese in Australia). Boot criticised Stevens for suggesting that “Christians in a plural society have to be prepared to tolerate others acting in ways that they regard as sinful, or even offensive, and extend to them the right to act in ways that they believe are self-harming.” This followed the resignation of a Christian, Tim Farron, as head of the UK Liberal party which Eternity reported here.
How much control or influence can Christians exert in society?
Boot responded by saying Christians need to preserve as much Christian morality in the law as possible. “Its function with the non-believer is to restrain wickedness and discipline society by bringing just retribution on those who assault God, his creation order and their fellow man, by their evil deeds.” The difference of opinion is about how much control or influence Christians can exert in society.
CLC will fight cases where some people think that, perhaps, there seems little chance of winning. Other Christians also question this strategy.
“I think what we see in the UK …. is a parliament that has no regard for God.” – Andrea Williams
Williams responds to the charge of being heavy handed and tells Eternity: “Our hearts at CLC and Christian Concern are full of love and compassion for individuals and our nations, but also for seeing Jesus Christ upheld in public life and for our nation to return to him.”
“I think what we see in our nation at this time is, certainly, a parliament that has no regard for God and where you are seeing a very aggressive secularist agenda take over, which allows no room for dissent.”
As she tours Australia this month, Williams plans to urge Australians not to follow Britain’s example. She calls us to “maintain Australia as a beacon of light.” Her tour starts in Perth on July 18, with events in every state, and finishes in Wollongong, NSW, on July 29. Details here.