This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Ripping Koran was "freedom of speech"
An atheist who ripped out pages from the Koran in front of Muslims at a stall promoting Islam was simply exercising freedom of speech, a court heard.
Peter James Crawford told police his decision to then throw the holy book on to the pavement at the Clock Tower, in Leicester city centre, was part of his protest against religion.
The 52-year-old is on trial at Leicester Crown Court accused of causing religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress, by demonstrating hostility based on membership of a particular religious group, Islam.
He denies the charge.
Barrister Steven Newcombe, who is representing Crawford, told the jury: "You have to expect that if you set up a stall in the city centre of Leicester advocating views, you are going to get people who have a completely opposite view.
"To do what they did in such a place takes a bit of a thick skin.
"You have to anticipate and expect that somebody is going to take exception and that is exactly what this defendant did.
"This defendant had a right to freedom of expression, just as the two Muslims had a similar right to advocate their religion."
After he had been arrested, Crawford told police he had had the copy of the Koran for two years and had studied it.
Prosecutor James Bide-Thomas told the jury Crawford, of Mere Road, Spinney Hill, Leicester, had approached the Islamic Information Centre's stall run by volunteers under the Clock Tower on Saturday, May 12.
He said at about 1.30pm, Crawford tore out pages of the Koran he had brought with him and then threw the holy book on to the pavement.
Mr Bide-Thomas said: "You the jury have to decide whether he made a valid religious protest or did he go out to upset some Muslims?"He said it was the prosecution case that Crawford had deliberately caused distress and upset to the Muslims on the stall.
Her honour Judge Taylor QC told the jury that the case centred on the balance between the right of Crawford to freedom of speech and the right of the two Muslims to advocate their views without being subject to criminal behaviour.
She said the jury had to decide whether Crawford's behaviour had been insulting and whether the decision to prosecute him was proportionate.
The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for one hour and 39 minutes before the judge sent them to a hotel for the night. They were due to resume their deliberations today.