Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of OutRage! plans to make his court hearing a “civil liberties test case” when he appears at Canterbury Magistrates Court this Friday, 15th May, at 9:45 a.m..
He is calling for the repeal of the law under which he has been charged, arguing that “it gives the Church privileged immunity from public protest and dissent”.
Tatchell was originally charged with “violent behaviour”. This week, that charge was dropped by the prosecution: and he is now being charged with “indecent behaviour” in a church, contrary to Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860. The prosecution claims that any form of unseemly behaviour in a church is “indecent” under the terms of the Act.
The charge against Tatchell arises from OutRage!’s Easter Sunday protest in Canterbury Cathedral on 12th April 1998. Interrupting the sermon of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Tatchell condemned Dr. Carey’s support for discrimination against lesbian and gay people with respect to employment, the age of consent, fostering and marriage.
Tatchell plans to summons the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral to testify in his defence.
“I will fight the prosecution on the issue of free speech”, said Tatchell. “The right to peaceful protest does not stop at the door of a Cathedral.
“Under this ancient law, the Church has privileged protection against protest. No other institution is granted these special, sweeping powers to suppress dissent. It should not be a crime to criticise the Archbishop of Canterbury in his Cathedral.
“What is at stake in this case is the precious, hard-won freedom to demonstrate. If the prosecution win, it will be a defeat for civil liberties and a victory for authoritarianism.
“The restrictions on the right to protest under the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act are incompatible with a democratic society and should be repealed”, said Mr. Tatchell.
DEFENCE FUND APPEAL
OutRage! is appealing for contributions to the Peter Tatchell Defence Fund.
“We need financial help to fight this prosecution”, said David Allison of OutRage!. “Peter’s case is an important test of civil liberties. We must defend the right to peaceful protest and resist this attempt to stifle freedom of speech”.
Cheques should be made payable to “OutRage!” and sent to:
OutRage!, P.O. Box 17816, London. SW14 8WT
At the preliminary hearing on 15th May, the case was adjourned till 5th June.
At the hearing on 5th June, the case further was adjourned till 12th June.