Police admit restrictions on pastor's street preaching were 'disproportionate'

Dia Moodley(Photo: ADF UK)

Avon and Somerset Police have conceded that attempts to stop a pastor from commenting publicly on other religions while street preaching were "disproportionate". 

Dia Moodley, a Bristol-based pastor who occasionally engages in street evangelism, was handed a 'Community Protection Notice' by the police which forbade him from "passing comments on any other religion or comparing them to Christianity" and "passing comments on beliefs held by Atheists or those who believe in evolution".

The notice, issued in October 2021, also banned him from "delivering a sermon or religious address at a time or place that has not had prior consent and approval of Avon & Somerset Constabulary."

Police have now settled his claim for damages on the grounds of religious discrimination, which was supported by the Alliance Defending Freedom UK (ADF) and the Free Speech Union. 

Welcoming the outcome, Mr Moodley said, "It isn't for the police to decide which religions or worldviews can be free from criticism.

"When I preach, I am committed to speaking about the good news of Christianity in love, grace, and truth – but that doesn't mean that I will never say something that others may disagree with.

"The nature of a free and democratic society is that we can speak publicly about our beliefs.

"Thankfully, with support from ADF UK and the Free Speech Union, I have received some measure of justice after having been wrongfully silenced by authorities. But this creeping culture of censorship is detrimental to all of us in society, whatever we believe, and we must challenge it wherever we see it." 

Moodley, a father-of-four, reached out to the police after experiencing racism, at which time officers began to attend his public preaching in order to protect him and the congregation. 

It was at a meeting he had arranged with the police to maintain good working relations that he was served the notice, which he refused to sign. 

ADF UK said that the restrictions on free speech in the notice amounted to unlawful censorship. 

Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, said that the case "exposes a clear double standard in British policing when the issue concerns the expression of core beliefs, particularly Christian beliefs".

He called for a change to the law to protect free speech for Christians.

"Bristol authorities unabashedly requested prior review of Dia's sermons and banned him from speaking about any other religion – including atheism. This blatantly restricted his freedom of religion and speech in an attempt to redefine established British values in accordance with their own ideals," he said. 

"Whilst we welcome the police force's admission that their actions were disproportionate, it is crucial that the laws permitting such flagrant violations of freedom of speech are urgently addressed to prevent the need for Dia and others like him from being embroiled in years of legal proceedings only to defend what should have instantly been recognised as their lawful, peaceful and constitutional rights to speak freely in public."

Commenting on the case, Bryn Harris, chief legal officer for the Free Speech Union, said: "The state does not hold a monopoly on truth and the ability to discuss and debate ideas, including religious ideas, is the lifeblood of any genuinely free society.

"Yet, repeatedly, we see this principle violated by unaccountable police officers and local councils who aggressively pursue their own ideological causes rather than using scarce public resources to tackle real crime."