Holy storm in a teacup

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IN the beginning there was the word. And the word was God. But it seems in modern times, the words of the Bible have been raising a few eyebrows in Layton.

Jamie Murray, who runs the Salt and Light Christian cafe on Layton Road was left flabbergasted last week after his outward show of faith led to a brush with the law.

Police officers said Bible verses on display in his premises breached Section Five of the Public Order Act.

A video screen at the back of his thriving cafe routinely shows excerpts from The Bible on a continuous loop.

Police said there had been a complaint by a female customer that some of the passages contained homophobic material – and that Mr Murray could face arrest if they were not removed.

The screen was promptly switched off – but Mr Murray later made an official complaint about his treatment saying the officers showed “very little respect” and were “quite aggressive.”

In fact Lancashire Police has since apologised to Mr Murray, who has had the cafe just three months, saying the officer had “misinterpreted the Public Order Act”.

Now although his Bible verses are back playing on their silent loop, it has certainly been a huge talking point in the Christian community.

Mr Murray said: “I am glad the police have apologised, they told me they are duty bound to respond to complaints so I do understand.

“I have never had negative comments about the Bible verses before and we get all sorts of people coming in here, it is not just Christians.

“I wanted to create a nice, peaceful environment for everybody, and I think the Bible verses add to this.

“I am very proud of being a Christian, I like to think the spirit of God is in the cafe but I don’t force my beliefs on anybody.

“The support I’ve had from people has been great, I’ve hardly spoken about anything else for a week.”

Mr Murray believes the verses that might have prompted the visit were from Romans chapter one, verses 26-27, which use the terms “against nature” and “indecent acts”.

In fact, he isn’t the first person on the Fylde Coast to end up in hot water with police as a result of his faith.

In 2005, Lancashire Police was forced to pay out £10,000 to Christian couple Joe and Helen Roberts.

The pair, from Fleetwood were interrogated about alleged homophobic comments after being stopped as they attempted to put Christian literature next to gay rights leaflets in Poulton Civic centre.

But the Salt and Light cafe’s welcome extends to everybody according to Mr Murray. The 31-year-old added: “I wanted to create a welcoming environment for everyone.

“I have had homosexuals coming in, in the past, they have always been welcome and will continue to be.

“I work hard to do nice food in a clean, calm and peaceful place, hopefully that appeals to everybody.”

The police visit has certainly proved a big talking point in the cafe. Christian Gail Simpson, 49, travelled from Fleetwood to show her support. She said: “I was in the cafe when the police arrived and we assumed they had come in for lunch.

“I couldn’t believe it when I found out why they had really visited.

“The screen is silent, so the Bible verses are hardly being shoved down people’s throats.

“It clearly says this is a Christian cafe, so if people are offended by them, they can simply go elsewhere.

“I find the messages very comforting as I’m sure many Christians do. I am pleased the police have apologised.”

Another Christian customer, a 73-year-old from St Annes added: “This is a lovely place and many Christians do meet here, but it is popular with lots of local people.

“There is so much crime going on in Layton and in Blackpool. I am sure the Police’s time could have been better served elsewhere.”

And among non-Christian customers, the message of support stayed just as strong.

Builder Darren Evans, 43 said: “I knew this was a Christian cafe, it didn’t bother me, I like it because it’s clean, the food is nice and it’s friendly.

“I have noticed the screen, I have sat facing it before, sometimes I read the verses, most of the time I don’t, it doesn’t bother me.

“I don’t understand why anybody would have complained. If you don’t want to read it, don’t read it.”

Bernadette Howell, 39 from Poulton agreed. She said: “I think everybody is entitled to their beliefs and no matter what they are, they should be respected.

“As long as people aren’t pushing their beliefs on me I am happy to live and let live, this is a free country after all.

“It clearly says this is a Christian cafe so if the views are likely to offend, people should go elsewhere, nobody is forcing them to come here.”