Two Christian preachers who claim they were stopped from handing out Bible extracts in a Muslim area of Birmingham are calling on police to state clearly their policy on freedom of speech.
Arthur Cunningham and Joseph Abraham, from the Grace Bible Fellowship Church, in Saltley, had been distributing leaflets in nearby Alum Rock when a police community support officer (PCSO) intervened.
The pair claimed the PCSO warned them to leave the area as they were committing a hate crime by trying to convert Muslims.
West Midlands Police has investigated the complaint and said the officer intervened with the best of intentions to defuse a “heated argument”.
The force, however, did give the PCSO “guidance” around what constitutes a hate crime after the incident.
But the two Christians claim that residents in Alum Rock still believe they are not permitted to preach in the neighbourhood as the police have not told them otherwise.
The Christian Institute, which is backing the men’s legal claims against West Midlands Police for infringing their civil liberties, is calling on Chief Constable Paul Scott-Lee to publicly state that the actions of the PCSO were wrong.
Mr Cunningham also said the police should issue a public statement outlining the rights that people of all religions have for freedom of speech.
He said: “We want to have some kind of statement from the police saying that what happened was incorrect.
“We want something that we can show to the people of Alum Rock to say that what we are doing is not illegal. The police have said to us that it is not illegal, but we are still being told when we go to Alum Rock that we are not allowed to speak to people.”
Mr Cunningham also criticised the police investigation into the incident as the force did not speak to witnesses. He said the force is refusing to apologise for the incident and the men have been told to go to the Independent Police Complaints Commission if they want their claims to be investigated further.
Christian Institute spokesman Mike Judge said: “The action West Midlands Police has taken does not reflects the seriousness of this incident and, because of this, the Chief Constable should issue a public apology.
“But because the police are refusing to do this, these two Christians have no option but to take this issue to court as they have had their civil liberties infringed.”
The Christians claimed they were warned by the PCSO to leave the area. They alleged he said: “If you come back here and get beat up, well you have been warned.”
They also claimed that the Muslim PCSO started ranting at them about George Bush and American foreign policy when he realised that the were from the US. The pair have demanded an apology and damages.
The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, recently said communities dominated by radical Islam give a hostile reception to Christians and those from other faiths.
A West Midlands Police spokeswoman said the complaint had been investigated by the force. She said: “The investigation concluded that the PCSO acted with the best of intentions when he intervened to diffuse a heated argument between two groups of men.”
The spokeswoman added that following the investigation the PCSO had been offered “guidance around what constitutes a hate crime as well as his communication style”.
Town halls should consider mapping their areas religion by religion to help combat Muslim extremism, the Government suggested today.
Guidance to local councils suggested the move as part of a wide-ranging package to identify and challenge Islamists, including a new national “de-radicalisation” programme.
The scheme will seek to reverse the process of indoctrination carried out by al Qaida-related extremists, using unnamed “specialised techniques”.
The document also said councils should make sure they have systems to remove funding or other support from inappropriate groups.
The guidelines said: “A deeper understanding of local communities should be developed to help inform and focus the programme of action - this may include mapping denominational backgrounds and demographic and socio-economic factors.”
Local groups that challenge the messages of violent extremists should be supported, it went on. But councils should be prepared to ask police to vet anyone involved in projects that receive government anti-radicalisation funding, it urged.
If a group is found to be promoting violent extremism, local agencies and the police should consider disrupting or removing funding, and deny access to public facilities, the document added.
The Home Office announced an extra £12.5 million will be available this year specifically to help institutions or individuals which may be vulnerable to radicalisation.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: “The national security challenges we face demand fresh approaches. A key element of our strategy aims to stop people getting involved in extremist violence.
“We are investing at local level to build resilient communities, which are equipped to confront violent extremism and support the most vulnerable individuals.”
The measures on “de-radicalisation” are based on examples overseas and on a scheme in Leicester which “aims to encourage young people to feel more valued and to eradicate myths and assumptions which lead to young people becoming alienated and disempowered”.