Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Gospel Preaching Made Illegal

Oct 9, 2012

Increasingly in the Western world the ability to preach the gospel is being banned or greatly restricted.  The irony of course is that it was largely through the Judeo-Christian worldview that Western democracies were formed, and the various freedoms, including freedom of speech, were enabled.

And even more ironic – and appalling – is how Islamic moves to implement sharia law and preach hatred of the West are being allowed in the very countries where Christianity is being denigrated and silenced. Of course pro-Muslim leaders such as Obama are making matters worse here, but on many other levels we see this anti-Christian bigotry raising its ugly head.

Consider several recent examples of this crackdown of evangelistic preaching. The first comes from the US where another case of state action against preachers has occurred. Here is how one news story covered the situation: “Police in New Jersey charged six Christians yesterday for evangelizing in a public park without government permission, and for causing some hearers to be upset with their Gospel message.

“Robert Parker of Millstone, New Jersey told Christian News Network that he and several Christians from Bread of Life Fellowship in Wayne were all cited on Saturday as they witnessed to passersby in Journal Square in Jersey City. He stated that Richard Corniel of Paterson, a Marine who had served in Iraq, was preaching the Gospel when he was approached by Officer Chris Baker, who immediately shut down Corniel by asserting that a permit was required for his activities. Officer Baker also reportedly informed the Christians that they were in a ‘private park’ and that they had to leave the city-owned property.

“When Parker first spoke to the police, he stated that Officer Baker demanded identification from all of the Christians under the threat of arrest. Parker said that at first he declined, but police insinuated that if they provided identification, everything would be fine. However, that did not turn out to be the case. ‘He told us, “That will cost you $250 a piece”,’ Parker recalled the officer stating. ‘He said, “Anybody who is with them gets a ticket”.’

“Parker explained that the police also confiscated the mobile phone of one of the Christians who was recording the incident, contending that it was against the law for them to record police, and that the officers were taking the phone as part of an investigation. In addition to engaging in open-air preaching and one-on-one witnessing, the Christians were also distributing Gospel literature to those inside the park. However, Jersey City police told them that they were not permitted to hand out tracts in the entire city without government permission.

“He kept asking me, ‘Do you know where you’re at? Do you know where you’re at?’ Parker outlined. When the supervising officer arrived on the scene to assess the situation, he agreed with Baker. Parker said that at this point, there were five to six law enforcement officials surrounding them.”

The second example is from Australia. One news item reports it this way: “The case of two brothers stopped from preaching in an Adelaide street by a local by-law is being tested in the High Court, with the ruling tipped to have wider ramifications for free speech. The court today considered whether a by-law restricting Samuel and Caleb Corneloup from preaching in the Rundle Mall shopping strip was inconsistent with the implied constitutional freedom of political communication.

“The Corneloup brothers, both members of a controversial religious organisation called ‘Street Church’, were prosecuted in a South Australian magistrates court with preaching in the mall without permission in 2009. They were found to have breached clauses of an Adelaide by-law stipulating that no one may ‘preach, canvass (or) harangue’ on any road without a permit. The preachers argued the clauses were invalid and sought a declaration to that effect in SA’s District Court.

“There, Judge Simon Stretton declared the words ‘preach, canvass (or) harangue’ and another clause preventing people from handing out printed material to be beyond Adelaide’s power in making by-laws. The city appealed the decision in the Supreme Court, but it was dismissed. The Supreme Court said demanding that people seek permission before speaking on political matters was incompatible with democracy and responsible government under the Australian Constitution.”

Now I know nothing about these two cases except for what the media has reported. Whether there is more to each story remains to be seen. But it seems in both cases we have something occurring which would have been unheard of just decades ago. Indeed, I recall over the years sharing my faith in public places such as parks, beaches, streets and so on in the US and Australia and elsewhere. There was never a need to “get a permit” or some such thing. But today it is getting harder and harder for a Christian to publically declare his faith.

On the general topic of religious freedom, US commentator Matthew Franck writes, “There is a growing awareness among Americans that religious freedom in our country has come under sustained pressures. In the public square where freedom of religion meets public policy, it becomes clearer all the time that there is a high price to be paid for being true to one’s conscience. This is no tale of Chicken Little—although a chain of chicken sandwich restaurants based in Atlanta is part of the story.”

He concludes his important article this way: “Individuals of faith, joined in communities of faith, forming a civil society imbued with the many faiths of those many communities, own this country. The state’s authority comes from us, and its power—the power of our elected employees—cannot be greater than what we can rightfully give it. We cannot give the state power over the conscience of men and women, because we do not ourselves have any right to come between God and our fellow citizens. The sooner our elected employees remember these foundational truths, the sooner we may begin to recover a healthy notion of religious freedom.”

Dr Snyder, who discusses Franck’s article, says this: “What we are witnessing is a shift in the significance of religious beliefs in our nation. They are now being shoved to the periphery, whereas they used to be right at the center of our culture. Two hundred years ago, the Founders recognized the priority that religious faith had in society.

“When James Madison wrote his famous Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, he clearly expressed the consensus of the age when he said, ‘It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.’

“Madison’s perspective was that our allegiance to God and what He requires of us is greater than the allegiance we owe to our government. Today, we are in the process of reversing that. Here, I believe, is where the real battle for the soul of our nation lies. Yes, I’m concerned about the economy, taxes, healthcare, foreign policy, and all the rest. Yes, I speak out constantly about the need to limit the federal government to the authority granted it in the Constitution. But even more than all that, it is imperative that our government not declare itself to be above an individual’s conscience before God. Government is not God; only God Himself can make that claim. We owe our ultimate allegiance to Him, and Him only.

“That’s why I write about the dangers of another four years of Barack Obama. His mindset is the new one, the one that subordinates religious beliefs to the dictates of whatever the government deems more important. The danger is real, and it must be met head-on and defeated.”

Quite so. Whether it is the Christophobe Obama in America, or Julia in Australia, things are getting real tight in terms of religious freedom, and the ability to publically proclaim the gospel. It will only get worse, unless we stand up and be counted here.

[1345 words]

10 Responses to Gospel Preaching Made Illegal

  • I must be naive, I always understood that under both the Australian and American Constitutions that there was a separation of the powers of the State and the powers of the Church.

    It now becoming obvious that now there is no longer that separation of State and Religious beliefs. This situation prompts the question when did God cede his powers to Men?

    As far as I am aware never. God will never cede his powers and control of his Laws and Commandments unto Men as we are stupid creatures way too smart for our own good. We apparently as a people do not have the combined Wisdom and ability to be telling God he is redundant.

    Leigh Stebbins

  • It certainly is getting more and more difficult to preach the gospel on the streets. I know of a Christian group recently that tried to obtain a permit to conduct a Christian outreach with, food, music, drama and the preaching of gospel in the Dandenong area. They were told that the permit would only be granted on the condition that they had ‘no spoken words’ at the event. So even when trying to obtain a permit, the Church is still being shut down. No matter what happens legally the Church must never stop preaching.

    Mat 10:16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

    Act 5:28-29 Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

    Daniel Hagen

  • A “city owned property” is called a private park? Is this another step in the direction of personification of government?
    So, Christians are muzzled while Muslims are getting all the air time? Shouldn’t the civil libertarians get onto this? 🙂
    I like what the man you quoted said about “our elected employees”. If people forget what “public servants” is supposed to mean, maybe this term drives the meaning home more successfully.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • At the weekend we had a very strong homily on the true nature of marriage and the importance of defending marriage publicly (O.T. and N.T. readings were all on topic)
    We were advised to become aware of the battle and to offer support and encouragement to those in public life who actively defend marriage if we lack the courage to do so ourselves. The dangers of doing nothing were made quite clear as well as the need/duty to be informed and involved. There was a lengthy and important article on marriage from our archbishop in our local Catholic paper. Maybe, at last, we’re all waking up Bill after your years of “crying in the wilderness”. Let’s hope it is not too late !!

    Anna Cook

  • I don’t understand how in New York it is acceptable to hand out advertising but not gospel tracts.

    Why does one get free reign while the other needs to be censored? Civil governments are absurd in the rules they think we need to conform to.

    Lennard Caldwell

  • I cannot comment on the case in America, but I have heard the Corneloup brothers in Rundle Mall. They are very much ‘in your face’, and whilst what they have to say is right (they were speaking on the evil of homosexuality), they were really pretty offensive – and I don’t agree with homosexuality! Did not Paul tell us to preach the Gospel ‘with respect’? These two brothers also turned up at a School Holiday event organised by the local Churches in Northern Adelaide handing out pamphlets which – again – whilst right, were NOT suitable for this event aimed at young children. It was pretty embarrassing for the local Pastor to have to ask them to leave – as far as I am aware there was no further trouble, and this event (costing about $$30,000) reached about 5000 children and parents. I guess if we are going to preach in the streets (I grew up with that in St.Kilda Vic. 70 odd years ago), we have to have a lot of sensitivity and the Holy Spirit guiding us
    God bless
    Joan Davidson

  • Thanks Joan

    As I say, I don’t know anything about this particular case. But something I read this morning comes to mind:

    “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (Paul in Philippians1:15-18)

    Whether these guys are being as tactful or wise or whatever as they might be is a moot point. But given that 99% of Christians are not out there sharing their faith, at least these guys are trying. But thanks for your input here. It all helps.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Dear Joan, and others,

    I would just like to clarify a few things. I know the Corneloups very well and we attend this Church.

    Firstly, the world sees the gospel of Jesus Christ offensive if it is preached as it should be. Pointing out the ten commandments and that each of us has broken many of them is the truth. We serve a Holy God who hates sin and therefore, has the power to cast everyone of us into the pit of hell. Nevertheless, by His amazing grace and mercy God does not want anyone of us to perish, and that is why He sent His Son Jesus Christ as a blood sacrifice. If we do not preach the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, nobody will see that they are sinners and therefore have no need for Christ. Sadly, this is where most churches are at. These churches say that your life will be so blessed and all your problems will go away when you accept Christ. That is totally opposite to what the scriptures say. “If the world hates you remember it hated me first” Christ speaking. Why is it that 95% of these conversions are false and these self confessed Christians fall away, and live their lives just the same as the rest of the world? You will know a Christian by their fruit!
    I encourage you to read Ray Comfort’s book “God has a wonderful plan for your life” Also have a look at the churches website “Street Church”

    Secondly, instead of making criticisms on hear say, about your brothers why not have the courage to speak with them personally as this is gossip. Come to the Church and hear the true gospel.

    Thirdly, if these guys weren’t defending these laws in court you and I would not be able to speak to anyone out on the streets without being fined (which they have been doing legally). This does not only affect preaching the gospel, but it has helped me at the abortion clinic in Adelaide. Where I have been fined for offering women help and support instead of them aborting their unborn children.

    Robyn Grace

  • This is the truth Bill. 2 weeks ago our Evangelism team were approached by a council bylaw enforcement officer in the CBD of Gisborne, New Zealand. He told us we could not speak to preach the Gospel at all in the CBD or speak to anyone in that area about Christianity as it was in “breach of a local bylaw”. He told us we were to stop immediately.
    Upon returning home we studied up all the relevant local bylaws as well as consulting legal aid and the police station – only to discover that this man had well overstretched a local bylaw that restricted amplified communication of any form without a permit.
    Once challenged with the NZ Bill of Rights and Human Rights Act, the council apologised via email and told us we could continue our “preaching”.
    However we were summoned to the council office today to be given “guidelines” which included needing to seek council permission to book a time whenever we wanted to engage in our evangelism activities, and that “any material” that we hand out “should not be offensive or likely to cause upset”!!!
    Such requests are blatantly in breach of NZ Bill of Rights and Human Rights Acts
    The Biblical facts remain concerning our the offense of the Biblical Gospel…
    2Co 2:15 For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish:
    2Co 2:16 To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?
    Satan is doing everything he can to muzzle the Gospel here in the west – but Jesus is King and Lord and we must be ‘valiant for the Truth’ (jer 9:3) and stand up for Christ in prayer, in faith, in word and in action!
    Praise God for you Bill, stay bold for the Truth!

    Jacquelyn Paul, NZ

  • Hi Bill,

    This is a comment added a long time after the fact but it may serve as grist for your mill…
    I have worked in street evangelism for almost 10 years now both here in Australia and also in Britain for 2 years. The increasing antagonism of governments and certain groups of people to the gospel being publicly proclaimed is a palpable every time you go onto the street to preach or even speak one on one with people.

    I and my fellow evangelists friends have been threatened with fines or arrest and many times had people in Brisbane, Toowomba, Hobart and the Gold Coast overstep the law substantially. Over the last couple of years since the Corneloup’s case, there has been a series of other reports that I have heard (primarily in Qld and Tas) of similar situations with other evangelists. Though less news worthy than the Corneloup’s many of these people have had to resort to the law courts to gain any measure of freedom.

    The main point of my writing to you is to underline the increasing difficulty that Christians are facing in proclaiming the gospel. I spent the last two years “negotiating” with the Hobart City Council to get a permit to preach the gospel in the mall of Hobart. The permitting scheme has now been instituted but the attitude the entire time has been that I was asking for something extra-ordinary and any concessions given were some extra-ordinary act of grace on the council’s part.

    During these two years I was frequently given the run around and tellingly the one of the main areas which council have set aside in their bylaws for free speech magically became unavailable when I enquired. I was informed that evangelism was allowed only in the one small park in Hobart which was so noisy as to make any kind of preaching or public debate impossible. It is possible to witness one to one on the side walk but I’ve also had council officers try and move me on whilst doing that!

    While I thought the police would be fairly even handed in these matters I was proven wrong on that count also. They threatened me with arrest when the council complained on a particular occasion. I then went and enquired if this was an error on the part of the officers involved. The inspector of Hobart uniform agreed with their actions and underlined that they would remove a Christian preacher on the grounds that there may be someone who would be offended and try to hurt the preacher. So the gospel was shut down under the guise of protecting the preacher when the real concern was that the council had complained and the police are apparently needed to protect someone from being offended.

    God has worked in this city and there was recently a breakthrough with the council as I said and praise His name we have freedom to preach in Hobart’s mall area now. Sadly though, as soon as I began preaching there was an atheist who has decided to try and find a legal route try and shut down the preaching of the gospel. I trust that God will have His way and that the Gospel will go forth and bear fruit but at the same time it is a sign of the times we live in I think.

    God bless you and please keep on writing your wonderful blogs, they are such an encouragement to me and many others in my church.

    Yours In Him

    David Gee

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