Carlisle Council has been forced to apologise for getting the law wrong after it tried to stop a street evangelist handing out gospel tracts.
An official from Carlisle Council told Keith Bullock, an evangelist with Open-Air Mission (OAM), that he could not hand out Christian literature in the city centre without their permission.
The Council claimed it was exercising legal powers that came into force last year. The new powers are aimed at preventing litter caused by large numbers of handbills handed out by nightclubs and other businesses. However, Carlisle Council seemed unaware that these laws do not apply to religious literature.
Open-Air Mission contacted The Christian Institute for help. After checking out the law we helped their Director, Andy Banton, write to Carlisle Council explaining their legal rights. He pointed out that religious literature was exempt and asked for confirmation that Mr Bullock could continue his work.
The council responded immediately with an unconditional apology. OAM have asked for the religious exemptions (found in section 1(4) of Schedule 3A to the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005) to be brought to the attention of other council officials so this unfortunate mistake is not repeated.
After the Council climb-down, Andy Banton said, "We are grateful to The Christian Institute for helping us. It was their advice that has enabled us to resolve this issue so quickly and protect our freedom to proclaim the gospel. We appreciate the willingness of the Council to admit its mistake and we are glad Keith can get on with his work of bringing the Gospel to the people of Carlisle."
Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said "This case illustrates the importance of Christians knowing the law. It also shows how public bodies can unwittingly go beyond the law. Christians have the freedom to handout Christian literature in the open air on public land without interference from the state. That is an important protection of free speech and religious liberty. We were glad we could help this street evangelist continue his good work."