Thursday, November 04, 2010

Freedom Bill

I recently wrote to my local MP on the matter of the Freedom Bill. May I suggest, dear reader, that you go and do likewise.

I understand that the Coalition Government is proposing to introduce a Freedom Bill to restore civil liberties by repealing unnecessary laws. I welcome that move and would suggest that one such unnecessary piece of legislation is the outlawing of "insulting" words or behaviour in Section 5 of the Public Order Act. In a recent high profile case, Christian hoteliers Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang were charged with insulting behaviour under Section 5 on being reported to the police by a Muslim guest following a discussion of religious matters. The case was dismissed, but sadly Mr & Mrs Vogelenzang's hotel business never recovered.

While it is appropriate that Section 5 makes "threatening" and "abusive" conduct illegal, I don't believe that people should have the right not to feel insulted or offended when others disagree with their views. As it stands Section 5 has had a chilling effect on free speech. To give a number of examples, under the legislation a street preacher was arrested and spent eight hours in a police cell for expressing his views on homosexuality when asked what he thought about the matter by a Police Community Support Officer. Animal rights campaigners were threatened with arrest when protesting against seal culling using toy seals daubed with fake blood. A 16 year-old boy was arrested for holding a placard outside a Scientology centre which read, “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult.”

Civil liberties groups Liberty and Justice as well as the Christian Institute (see their helpful briefing paper here) back the campaign to remove the word "insulting" from Section 5 of the Public Order Act. Please will you do all you can to help ensure that this aspect of the legislation is repealed in the Freedom Bill.

Best wishes,

Guy Davies

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