A 71-year-old pastor of a north London church was arrested on April 23 under the United Kingdom's Public Order Act for allegedly making "homophobic comments" during a public sermon, video shows.
At least one United Kingdom-based group, Christian Concern, which defends people of faith, described the incident as a "brutal arrest" that sets a bad precedent for religious freedom of speech throughout the country. But local police said they'd received numerous complaints that Sherwood had been making bigoted remarks directed toward gay people, which the anonymous caller described as abusive or insulting words.
A now-viral video recording of the arrest shows Sherwood standing on a step stool in the Uxbridge, London, public square before police approach and appear to physically strike him as he's led away in handcuffs. Sherwood, a pastor for 35 years, has adamantly denied that he was making any remarks which targeted gay people specifically. But he told a podcast host Thursday that he was preaching about the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman at the time of his arrest.
"It is a venue we've been to, and the people are quite used to us being there, and usually the police pass by or just nod in approval sometimes," Sherwood told The Richie Allen Show podcast Thursday. "There must have been some complaints for the police to actually have come there in the first place. They came up and spoke to me and I was preaching at the time so I said, 'please don't disturb me because I'm preaching the gospel which is my lawful right to do.'"
"I was preaching from the Holy Bible from Genesis Chapter 1," Sherwood noted. "About God creating man in his image, being male and female...I was talking about the husband and wife relationship and children, and the beauty of the family. And it was construed by some as being homophobic even though I never mentioned anything about homosexuals."
A woman recording the incident on her cell phone can repeatedly be heard yelling at the arresting police officers: "You're on camera...For a man preaching about Christianity!"
Sherwood later told local news outlets that he was released without being charged and he maintains that he did nothing wrong. Britain's Public Order Act law which was created in 1986 seeks to "abolish the common law offenses of riot, rout, unlawful assembly and affray and certain statutory offenses relating to public order; to control public processions and assemblies; to control the stirring up of racial hatred."
"I wasn't making any homophobic comments. I was just defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman," the pastor said Friday. "I was only saying what the Bible says – I wasn't wanting to hurt anyone or cause offense. I was doing what my job description says, which is to preach the gospel in open air as well as in a church building.
"When the police approached me, I explained that I was exercising my religious liberty and my conscience. I was forcibly pulled down from the steps and suffered some injury to my wrist and to my elbow. I do believe I was treated shamefully. It should never have happened."
A representative for Christian Concern told a U.K. news outlet last week: "There is an idea that if people are offended, you should arrest someone, but in this country, we also have freedom of speech...But everything he said was Bible-based. He was not saying anything abusive."
Newsweek reached out to the Christian Concern group for additional responses Sunday morning.