A man whose religious public address in Whangārei upset some listeners says the police interfered with his right to free speech by asking him to shut up.

During a 20-minute fire-and-brimstone sermon in Cameron St on July 20, ''street preacher'' Grant Edwards hurled denigrating comments at passers-by and people seated nearby. As well as telling them their own and others' life choices would take them straight to hell, he made inflammatory, insulting statements about the deities of other religions.

Edwards listed gay people, unmarried parents and feminists among other "sinners" and said, unless they repented, Islam, Buddhism and Catholic believers were also on their way to hell - ''as fast as a greased bullet ... straight to the lake of fire'', he said.

Before Edwards was asked to stop, some people shouted back to him that he was making ''hate speech''.


This week, Edwards told the Advocate he spoke from a place of love, not hate, and was merely doing his duty to save people.

''It's the Gospel's main message to warn people to repent,'' he said.

He likened not doing so to someone knowing a road had washed out ahead but watching traffic head toward doom without trying to turn them back.

His torrent of words returned several times to the topic of homosexuality. He said God did not make gay babies and people decided to be homosexual. He claimed he was quoting God's word, the Bible.

In April last year, Australian Wallabies rugby player Israel Folau caused a furore when he lashed out on social media about homosexuality. He claimed, as part of his Christian beliefs, God's plan for gay people is hell. Folau also tweeted that hell awaits drunks, fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, liars, thieves, atheists and idolaters.

The sports star's rant was widely termed ''hate speech'', and raised concerns it could incite vulnerable adolescents to suicide. It ultimately cost Folau his multi-million dollar contract with Rugby Australia, which he is now taking to court.

Grant Edwards inflamed passers-by with his fire and brimstone sermon.
Grant Edwards inflamed passers-by with his fire and brimstone sermon.

Edwards has threatened to take the Attorney-General 's office to court over the police shutting down his right to free speech. He is seen in his video telling a police officer he will ''see him in court''.

When told by the officer he had offended people, Edwards replied, "Offending is part of free speech''.


He told the Advocate he was ''still thinking about'' taking the legal action.

A senior Whangārei police officer confirmed members of the public and CBD security staff had raised concerns about ''a man's alleged disorderly behaviour''.

Senior Sergeant Christian Stainton said people were entitled to go about their business uninterrupted and had the right to feel safe while doing so.

Police had sought legal advice after the incident and were well equipped to deal with any future incidents of that nature, Stainton said.

A well-prepared Edwards filmed his entire address, including people's reactions and the approaches by City Safe staff and police.

In an introduction to footage later posted on social media, he admitted his sermon had been much more vehement than usual. It was intentionally ''severe and harsh, but it's the Bible,'' he said on the video.

During his public tirade, he held up a copy of the New Zealand Bill of Rights which ensures the right of free speech.

The Free Speech Coalition has also weighed into the matter.

''Preachers have the right to share views in public squares, as they have done for thousands of years," spokeswoman Rachel Poulain said.

Referring to Whangārei District Council (WDC) requiring people to have a permit to distribute pamphlets or other material, the Free Speech Coalition said the use of bylaws ''to prohibit Edwards from pamphleteering sends a dark message to religious New Zealanders''.

The screening of proposed material for ''objectionable'' content amounted to censorship, Poulain said.

But pamphlets didn't feature in Edwards' address.

WDC spokeswoman Ann Midson said he had not applied for a pamphlet permit, and there was no requirement for a licence or permit to preach in the mall.

A pamphleteering permit provided a measure of control over street litter, ''but we also do look over material to ensure it does not breach any central government legislation,'' she said.

''We want the mall and centre of town to be safe, friendly, vibrant – a public space with entertaining or interesting activities. We also have an obligation to keep people in it safe, and that does not only mean physically safe.''