A Christian pastor in the U.K. arrested and found guilty of harassing and “misgendering” an individual who identifies as transgender recently saw his conviction overturned nearly two years after his legal nightmare began.
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David McConnell was preaching in Leeds in June 2021, when an interaction with this individual ignited a firestorm that landed him behind bars and battling for his rights. McConnell told CBN’s Faithwire he was preaching outdoors when chaos unfolded — something he frequently does to share the Gospel.
“I like to set up properly,” he said. “I like to be on a stand so people can see me. I use amplification. I preach in a way which is interactive. People can ask questions and engage.”
He recalled preaching for about 30 minutes on the day of his arrest when the individual in question purportedly approached him.
“As I was preaching … there was a young man in women’s clothes with a friend who turned up,” McConnell said. “Then I was approached with a question from this individual who asked the question, ‘Does God accept the LGBT community?'”
The preacher said he followed his standard protocol for responding, which is to say, “This lady or this man asked a question,” before delivering his response. In this case, he said, “This gentleman asked a question,” but the use of “gentleman” for a biological man who identifies as female began to rile the crowd.
McConnell said people started to heckle and take issue with his framing, with the crowd demanding he affirm the person was authentically a woman.
“I was just repeating back and said, ‘No, I don’t agree. This is a man. Let’s move on. Let’s, you know, deal with the question, try and answer the question,'” he recalled, noting the heckling eventually calmed.
But little did McConnell know the situation was about to intensify.
He carried on preaching as the crowd grew, and then the police arrived.
“Eventually, the police asked me to step down; I did,” he said. “But when I explained to the officer what had happened — that a man in women’s clothes had asked me a question regarding LGBT, he really just got triggered at that and decided to put the handcuffs on me and took me off.”
McConnell explained the U.K. has a law called the Public Order Act (4A Public Order Act 1986), which restricts someone from “intentionally causing somebody to feel harassed, alarmed, or distressed by using threatening, abusive, or insulting words or language.”
This was the law he was purportedly accused of violating.
“So, the police have arrested me on the basis of thinking I violated that particular law, which would say that, by me referring to this man who identifies as a woman … using male pronouns, that I’ve caused him to feel distressed,” McConnell explained.
The preacher was purportedly taken to a police station and held for 14 hours. After McConnell’s release, he assumed the case would be resolved, but it took until earlier this month for that to unfold.
However, McConnell said he continued preaching after his release and was once again arrested just a month after the initial incident, with the same public order being used as the basis.
Subsequent issues also later unfolded as he preached.
He said it got to the point where he would park his car near the police station and walk over to the area where he would preach, assuming he would be arrested and, upon release, would have easier access to his vehicle.
“I literally parked my car in the car park opposite the police station, went into the city center, and preached, basically expecting that, if I stand there and preach my message, the police are gonna arrest me and take me there,” he said. “I’ve been arrested seven times over the last three years or so, and there’s no [conviction].”
McConnell said police officers often show up while he’s preaching and simply listen to the crowd’s lies about what he hasn’t really said. The question, of course, remains: even if McConnell was making critical statements about Islam, abortion, or homosexuality, why wouldn’t he have the free speech to do so?
“The laws that are in place in the U.K. actually do protect us for going out there to preach,” McConnell said. “But it’s the culture that’s within many of these police forces and the ideologies that many of these police officers are embracing themselves.”
He continued, “This kind of woke ideology and the LGBT ideology and how it’s pushed within the government sort of institutions and within the police that these police officers are turning up and they’re hearing that there’s a preacher who says homosexuality is sin, or that … Islam is a false religion, [or] that abortion is a form of murder.”
McConnell believes the police show up, hear these things, and immediately assume the pastor has violated the Public Order Act.
In the end, though, McConnell won his case, despite initially being forced to pay a fine and do community service hours. A statement from his attorneys with the Christian Legal Centre read, in part, “Mr. McConnell was subsequently convicted at the Magistrates Court, made to pay costs of £620 [$758] and forced to do 80 hours of community service despite there being no legal obligation to use a trans person’s preferred pronouns in the U.K.”
The Leeds Magistrates’ Court overturned the conviction earlier this month, finding there was no intent to harass the transgender individual.
McConnell told CBN’s Faithwire he was “delighted” to achieve victory in the contentious case.
“I felt when I was at the station on that day … eventually sort of common sense would prevail and that somewhere along the line I would be vindicated,” he said. “But … to go all that length of time having … hanging over yet was just dreadful.”
The Daily Mail reported this month had been reported to “counter-terror police” and was seen as “persistently and illegally espousing an extreme point of view.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, lamented the case earlier this month and the punishment, noting the preacher was “assaulted, abused, and has his belongings stolen simply for stating biological reality.”
“This case represents a disturbing trend in our society, which is seeing members of the public and professionals being prosecuted and reported as potential terrorists for refusing to celebrate and approve LGBTQ ideology,” Williams said.
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