June 19, 2012

A pensioner who had a sign in his window saying “religions are fairy stories for adults” has been threatened with arrest under controversial Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

Lincolnshire pensioner, John Richards, was told by officers that he may face arrest if he puts up the sign at his home, as it could distress passers by.

Mr Richards says that any such ban would be a threat to free speech, and has vowed to return the sign to the window.

He told The Boston Standard: “The police said I could be arrested if somebody complained and said they were insulted, but the sign was up two years ago and nobody responded or smashed the window.

“I accept that the police emphasised the words could lead to an arrest but the implication is a threat to free speech which surely should be fought.”

Last month, a group of MPs and activists launched a campaign to reform the Public Order Act by removing the word “insulting” from Section 5.

Currently, Section 5 of the Act outlaws “insulting words or behaviour”, but what exactly constitutes “insulting” is unclear and has resulted in many controversial police arrests. In 2008 a sixteen-year old boy was arrested for peacefully holding a placard that read “Scientology is a dangerous cult.” The Home Office is currently considering its response to a consultation on the issue, which closed in January.

Simon Calvert, of the Reform Section 5 campaign said:

“I hope the Home Office is looking closely at this case because it is just the latest ludicrous example of why “insults” need to be taken out of the scope of Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

“It is no business of the criminal law to impinge on such moderate expressions of belief. If the police routinely applied the law in this way, Richard Dawkins would be out of business.

“What possible justification could there be for officers to tell a man he cannot insult religion with a tiny poster in his own window?”

The campaign to Reform Section 5 is supported by MPs from all parties, with a recent ComRes poll showing that that 62% of MPs believe it should not be the business of government to outlaw “insults.”

Supporters include the gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, The National Secular Society and The Christian Institute. David Davis MP, the former Shadow Home Secretary, is leading the cross-party calls for reform. Mr Davis, a strong supporter of civil liberties, says the campaign is “vital to protecting freedom of expression in Britain today.”