A Christian who was the first street preacher to be prosecuted and reported to a U.K. counterterrorism watchdog for allegedly misgendering a transgender person won his appeal Thursday.
Dave McConnell, 42, was convicted in August under section 4A Public Order Act 1986 after he referred to a biological male who presented as a female by addressing the individual as “he” during a conversation with a police officer, according to his legal counsel at the London-based Christian Legal Centre.
McConnell was delivering an outdoor sermon on June 8, 2021, in Briggate, Leeds, when the transgender individual asked him whether God accepts the LGBTQ community.
When McConnell, who encouraged members of the public to ask him questions during his preaching, responded by stating that God hates sin and referred to the individual as a “gentleman,” the crowd reportedly grew larger while erupting in disapproval and profane denunciation, drawing police attention.
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Video footage shows the preacher was repeatedly abused by members of the crowd, who also reportedly made off with some of his possessions.
The police officer who responded to the scene, decked out with a pentagram tattoo, arrested McConnell after he continued to refer to the transgender woman with masculine pronouns, according to the Christian Legal Centre. Under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, U.K. police are empowered to arrest someone who is allegedly causing “harassment, alarm or distress” within the hearing of anyone nearby.
McConnell was detained for 14 hours at the local police station, which flies an LGBTQ flag outside its building. A local judge convicted him in August and sentenced him to pay costs of £620 and perform 80 hours of community service. The Probation Service also reported McConnell to Prevent, which polices allegations of terrorism in the U.K.
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“People have the right to hold opinions and express their views,” Elizabeth Wright of the Crown Prosecution Service said of McConnell’s case at the time. “But when words cross the line between a legitimate expression of religious views, and become distressing and threatening, the CPS will prosecute offenders if our legal test is met.”
“He wanted to argue his rights of free speech,” the arresting officer said during the Thursday appeal, according to Christian Legal Centre. “Regardless of what he’d have preached, I think the crowd wouldn’t allow it…the final trigger was when [Mr McConnell] referred to the victim as a man in a dress. I stopped him and told him he’d been told victim was a female.”
McConnell testified that he was not misgendering during the incident, but rather “telling the truth.”
“I think people could have been offended, but that’s not the intention,” he said. “My intention was to simply stay faithful to my beliefs, stay faithful to God and to stay faithful to my conscience. I wasn’t being transphobic; I was expressing what I believe.”
McConnell’s conviction was overturned before he had finished giving evidence, and the ruling noted that he had not intended to give distress but was simply expressing his personal beliefs.
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“I wasn’t being transphobic; I was expressing what I believe.”
“What has happened to me has been Orwellian and really alarming,” McConnell said in a statement ahead of his appeal hearing. “When I was told I had been reported to counter-terrorism I just thought: ‘What has happened to this country? How I have been treated has been totally unreasonable and should concern anyone who cares about Christian freedoms and free speech in this country.”
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McConnell’s case comes as the U.K. increasingly makes international headlines for prosecuting Christians, including Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who was arrested twice for praying silently outside an abortion clinic in Birmingham.