A CHRISTIAN minister who helped found his own church and is run - ning for election for the Liberal Democrats alleges there is an unfolding smear campaign against him.

Newport East parliamentary candidate Paul Halliday claims voters have been told he wants to close all mosques – an allegation he denies.

He says he doesn’t go out to convert people and that he’d wed a gay couple "in a heartbeat".

The candidate, who will run against Labour MP Jessica Morden in the 2015 general election, says that Newport East is still “on the radar” for the Liberal Democrats and that he’s not a fan of his party’s leader, Nick Clegg.

Mr Halliday, who ran and lost in last year’s Pill by-election, is originally from Scotland. He moved to Newport in 2005 to work as a minister in the Church of Christ in Riverside after studying theology in the US.

The 31-year-old, who left the church after five years, is now a volun - tary minister with The Forgiven Family, a tiny church of around 15 members based in Skinner Street that he helped found about a year ago.

The church includes members who are asylum seekers and conducts live translation in Persian and Kurdish. “A lot of them have fled because of their faith,” Mr Halliday said.

His religious practice has become the subject of innuendo and gossip, and Mr Halliday said he has been the target of a smear campaign.

The candidate, who works at Specsavers, explained that he was aware of talk about photographs of baptisms from the church’s Facebook page being used to say The Forgiven Family is converting Muslims.

“Apparently I want to close down all the mosques – that was apparently going on around the Pill by-election,” he said.

“None of that is true.”

Mr Halliday, who doesn’t know where the smears are coming from, said those who know him would “openly stand up and say this person...never tries to convert people.”

He said that his church doesn’t “go out evangelising”, is very progressive and “laid-back”.

Mr Halliday says he be - lieves in same-sex marriage and evolution, and would conduct a gay wedding “in a heartbeat”.

Freedom of religion was “fundamental” he said, and that it would be arrogant of him to believe that he has it “right and others have it wrong.”

Newport East was a taget seat for the Liberal Democrats at the 2010 election, but the party’s popularity has taken a hit since leader Nick Clegg entered into coali - tion with the Tories that year.

“Newport East is still very much on the radar of the Liberal Democrats as a national party,” Mr Halliday said, before later admitting: “The national scene makes it a more difficult challenge than the last time.”

The candidate said there are times when he thinks Nick Clegg “made poor decisions about how we’ve presented ourselves.”

“I think that has hurt us.”

But he said the Lib Dems in government had increased the income tax level, given employers a £2,000 national insur - ance tax break to take on more young people and stopped the Tories taking benefits away from the under 25s