Nobody has the right not to be insulted or offended. This may seem harsh, but it is an important freedom and one that lies at the heart of our commitment to free speech, pluralism and democracy.
A wide range of views are represented in the campaign from The Christian Institute to the National Secular Society. Campaign groups including Big Brother Watch, The Peter Tatchell Foundation and The Freedom Association are also supporters. In Parliament, we have over 60 MPs and Peers signed up to this campaign
No, the law rightly offers full protection to minorities and indeed to all people regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age or sex. The law should also uphold the values of free speech and it should not be used to silence or sideline campaigners, preachers or social activists. Section 5 protects us against threatening or abusive behaviour and these provisions are sufficient.
It’s not nice to be rude, and we should all think before we speak. But this campaign isn’t about making it easier to insult people. It’s about protecting our freedom when we debate grand issues, or when we practice our faith or disagree with those who do. It’s about preserving the hard won freedom to speak our mind and stand by our beliefs, whatever they may be.
This campaign is about nothing more and nothing less than protecting free speech. What people do with such freedom has the potential to generate controversy as much as humour, and enlightenment as much as anger. We would all like to see a little less swearing and a little more manners, but this campaign would also like to see the reform of an outdated law that stifles debate and threatens everyone’s freedom.
‘5 Harassment, alarm or distress
(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he–
(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
(2) An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the other person is also inside that or another dwelling.
(3) It is a defence for the accused to prove–
(a) that he had no reason to believe that there was any person within hearing or sight who was likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress, or
(b) that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling, or
(c) that his conduct was reasonable.
(4) … [REPEALED]
(5) … [REPEALED]
(6) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.’