Evangelists should be free to preach the Gospel ‘without restrictions’, the Deputy Mayor of Mid & East Antrim Council has said.
Bannside TUV representative Timothy Gaston expressed ‘disappointment’ at SDLP Cllr Declan O’Loan’s contention that Council should no longer give preachers ‘carte blanche’ when they sought permission to hold outdoor services in places like the People’s Park.
Cllr. O’Loan raised the issue after he received complaints about loud amplification of a service at the venue. In his original statement he said a Council officer had informed him that, in future, conditions would be placed on such services.
But Cllr. Gaston has charged the SDLP representative with trying to restrict ‘freedom of religious expression.’
He added: “Open air services and Gospel outreach are a common feature across the borough, and as a local councillor, I feel this is a very worthwhile expression of our Christian heritage.
“The various organisations carrying out this type of evangelism often also make significant contributions to wider community wellbeing and social care by providing services such as youth Bible clubs, food banks and senior citizens groups.
“One of the privileges of living in the United Kingdom is ‘civil and religious liberty for all. This includes freedom of religious expression.
“I believe it is vital that we do not erode this fundamental freedom.
“As a local Councillor, I feel we should continue to support the right and freedom to publicly express one’s religious beliefs.”
Editor’s note: Representatives of the Evangelical Group which held the service in the park were adamant that it was they who had raised the volume issue and had made an offer to ‘turn it down’ in a spirit of ‘co-peration rather then confrontation’.
They said they were ‘unware’ of any ‘conditions’ being imposed on them by Council.