Council ban Norwich church over Islam leaflet
A Norwich church has been banned from holding a weekly city-centre bookstall and been stopped from worshipping in the premises which it has used for the last 18 years, after a complaint to Norwich City Council that it sold a leaflet criticising Islam. Keith Morris reports.
After a single complaint, Norwich City Council has decided to ban Norwich Reformed Church from holding their weekly bookstall outreach on Hay Hill for “equality reasons.” The Council has also advised the council-run Eaton Park Community Centre to stop from taking any further bookings from the church, which has held worship services at the site for 18 years, and a two-week ban has now been implemented prior to an appeal by the church being heard.
The complaint was made about a leaflet entitled ‘Why Not Islam’, written by the church’s pastor, Dr Alan Clifford some ten years ago. The Council claimed that the leaflet was “hate motivated”.
A Council spokesman said: “Although the police advised that no criminal offence had been committed, we have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to foster good relations between people of all backgrounds and religions. By allowing premises owned by the Council to be used by an organisation publishing such material, we would be failing in that duty.”
Pastor Alan Clifford said the church were now working with the Christian Institute on the matter and would appeal in the hope "the council will see sense and see how they are violating our freedom of speech".
He said: "Our first response was one of surprise. We felt this a violation of freedom of speech and I was accused of hate motivation in producing this leaflet. It's an intolerance from the city council acting in a high and mighty manner as we've had it confirmed by Norfolk Police - who've inspected the document - there is no crime involved," he said.
A police spokesman confirmed a complaint had been received from a member of the public regarding leaflets that were distributed but, following discussions with the council, the force’s diversity team and CPS it was “deemed that no offences were carried out”.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of the campaign organisation Christian Concern, said: “Freedom of speech is under huge pressure in this nation. Criticism of other religions now appears to be seen as a hate crime. How have we come to this in a supposedly free society?
“The Council appears to believe that Christians are not entitled to their opinions and should be silenced. Unfortunately this appears to be a common trend in the public sphere.”
Norwich Reformed Church, which is currently worshipping in a private residence, is an associate member of Affinity (formerly British Evangelical Council).
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Pictured above is Alan Clifford, pastor of the Norwich Reformed Church and the Hay Hill bookstall.