Street preachers ordered to drop homophobic hate speech in new code of conduct

A 40-year-old man was arrested in Leeds city centre after becayse of his hate-filed views about the LGBT+ community and premarital sex

Religious preachers in Leeds city centre have been slapped with a code of conduct designed to cut down on homophobia.

Leeds City Council, in participation with West Yorkshire Police, issued the code after scores of complaints over homophobic language being used.

It tells street preachers that their right to freedom of speech is “qualified” – meaning it can be interfered with in order to protect the rights of others and of the wider public interest

According to the code, seen by the Yorkshire Post, preachers must “refrain from using homophobic language or any other hate speech”.

It adds: “It is an offence under the Public Order Act 1986 to use threatening, abusive or insulting words with the intention of causing a person to feel harassment, alarm or distress.” 

Preachers must refrain from using language that may be upsetting or alarming to young children, must keep their volume down, and must not preach outside the same spot for more than 90 minutes to avoid distressing nearby shop workers and staff.

Under the code they can be ordered to hand over contact information, including their church group details, to the council and police.

A Leeds City Council spokesperson told PinkNews the city is “diverse and welcoming” and they want “everyone to feel safe”. 

They added: “Leeds City Council is committed to ensuring that no one should be exposed to hate speech of any form anywhere in Leeds. 

“The code of conduct was introduced following reports of hate speech including homophobic abuse and is a direct response to concerns raised by the public and local businesses. Leeds City Council will continue to work with the police to ensure that hate speech has no place in the city.”

It comes after West Yorkshire Police released figures last year that showed one in seven hate crimes were linked to homophobia in 2021. 

“One measure to encourage reasonable behaviour”

A West Yorkshire Police spokesperson told PinkNews they work closely with the council under the Safer Leeds partnership to “address crime and anti-social behaviour” across communities. 

They said: “We are committed to ensuring that anyone who feels targeted because of their race, sexual orientation, religion, disability or transgender identity is listened to, and we will continue to treat all allegations of hate crimes seriously, investigate them and take positive action as appropriate.” 

The force said it is “always conscious of the need to balance people’s rights and freedoms with the rights of others to be protected against hate speech”. 

Its spokesperson added that police supported the introduction of the code of conduct as “one measure to encourage reasonable behaviour”.

A Christian preacher told the Yorkshire Post it was “out of the question” that he should be barred from preaching about LGBTQ+ issues. 

He said his preaching was “thoroughly Biblical and in line with mainstream historic Christian doctrine”.

Christian charity Open Air Campaigners International told the Yorkshire Post “the law offers considerable strength and protection to speak freely about Jesus and related topics affecting freedom of conscience and belief”. 

They added preachers have a “legal right to share the Gospel on the streets, to read or quote the Bible and to engage in discussion provided they are not causing a riot, inciting hatred, causing an obstruction, trespassing or making too much noise”.

On 2 September, a street preacher was found guilty of harassing a trans woman in Briggate, Leeds

It came shortly after video footage captured a preacher being arrested after making disparaging comments about the LGBT+ community and marriage.