Street preacher given time limit by St Paul’s Cathedral

27 July 2018

Allan Coote, a London bus driver, has been told that he can read aloud Bible passages outside the cathedral for half an hour, once a week

The Sunday Times/News Licensing

Allan Coote outside the west front of St Paul’s Cathedral, London

Allan Coote outside the west front of St Paul’s Cathedral, London

A MAN has been told he can preach outside St Paul’s Cathedral — but only for half an hour a week, “to provide a prayerful and safe space for all”.

Allan Coote was confronted by the cathedral’s security staff and briefly detained by police on Saturday after he refused to respond to requests to move on.

He has been arguing for what he says is his right to preach outside the cathedral since January, and maintains that he is doing nothing wrong.

Mr Coote, an evangelist and a bus driver from east London, told The Daily Telegraph: “Nobody was complaining about me. People are quite happy for me to do it. In fact, they waited for me to finish, and came up to me asking me questions about it.

“The security staff were not happy for me to read it, as they claimed I was on private property. I quoted to them that there is a constitutional position, the Epistle Dedicatory, that encourages the Bible to be read in the Church of England and on its land.”

A spokeswoman for St Paul’s said on Monday: “To provide a prayerful and safe space for all, including on the cathedral’s land at the entrances to the building, St Paul’s Cathedral has a policy of limiting any form of public oration, protest, demonstration, preaching or other source of disturbance to people we wish to offer a welcoming space to outside the cathedral.

“The Chapter’s policy is to allow a short interval and then ask the person to stop, and to involve the police if they refuse to do so or to move off the cathedral’s land.

“The police are supportive of this policy, and on one occasion briefly arrested a man who regularly returned to read loudly passages from the Bible, because he was refusing to respond to polite requests from cathedral staff to move on.

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“After this incident, the man concerned had a meeting with one of the cathedral clergy, following which Chapter agreed to suspend its policy for this particular person so that he could read the Bible, as he requested, for half an hour outside the cathedral once a week.”

Mr Coote told the Telegraph that he was unhappy with the time limit. He said: “There should not be a limit. If I want to go all week, I should be allowed to do this without interruption.”

Dr Martin Parsons, of the charity the Barnabas Fund, said: “This illustrates the slippery slope down which the UK is losing its heritage of religious freedom. One of the first aspects of freedom of religion to be established in England was the freedom to read the Bible in public. St Paul’s is trying to stop someone reading the Sermon On The Mount in public.”

A report from the Evangelical Alliance, Speak Up: The law and your gospel freedoms, lays out the rights of public preachers. It says: “There is a well-established freedom, protected by UK law, to preach on a public street. . .

“Because witnessing in a public area is a lawful activity, you do not have to obtain permission from anybody to do it. However, if there is any doubt, it is wise to check that you are in a public place and not on someone else’s land (where you might be trespassing) before preaching. . .

“On occasions, continuing to speak boldly and undeterred will be the right thing to do. On other occasions varying the tone of what is being said or offering to have a more private discussion with the bystanders may be the most Christ-like response. Haranguing people is obviously to be avoided.”

The forecourt in front of St Paul’s belongs to the Dean and Chapter. St Paul’s Cross, standing to the north-east of the cathedral on ground owned by the Corporation of the City of London, was one of the country’s most famous open-air pulpits, but this was pulled down in the mid-17th century.

At the end of 2016, the Prime Minister told Christians to speak freely about their faith (News, 9 December 2016). Theresa May told the House of Commons: “We have a very strong tradition in this country of religious tolerance and freedom of speech, and our Christian heritage is something we can all be proud of.”

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