When Dale Mcalpine was arrested and charged for saying that homosexual activity is sinful in April last year, the charges were eventually dropped, but the Christian street preacher called for changes to the law that would make it possible to express religious opinion out loud in Britain without fear of arrest and prosecution.
Now there is a cross-party support for a change in the law that would remove a single word from the Public Order Act 1986 that has allowed Christians to be arrested when they offend the sensibilities of homosexual activists.
The amendment, that proposes to remove the word insulting from Section 5 of the Act, was tabled by Conservative MP Edward Leigh and is backed by the Liberal Democrat president, Tim Farron, and the Labour party’s Tom Watson, a former Government Minister. Six more MPs from across the parties have signed.
The law currently outlaws threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour and behaviour that is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
The existing wording of ‘insulting’ underpins much of the police abuse of this catch-all law. More or less anything can be construed as ‘insulting’ to someone, somewhere.
The MPs’ attempt to ameliorate the situation in Britain has also received the backing of Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society (NSS), has said that there should be no objection to a change to make it more difficult for people to involve the law when they feel offended. He said: I think that most people who value free speech, and that’s most democrats, would say that it’s common sense to say that you cannot take offence and then call in the law to say my feelings must be protected.
I believe that removing the word ‘insulting’ would be enough to stop Section 5 being misused and generating a chilling effect on free speech, Leigh told the House of Commons. Section 5 is a classic example of a law that was brought in for one thing, fair enough, to deal long ago with a particular state of affairs, but in practice is being used for something quite different. It was brought in to tackle hooliganism, but is increasingly used by police to silence peaceful protesters and street preachers.
John Glen, Conservative MP for Salisbury, commented, To voice one’s opinion without fear of punishment or censorship is a fundamental human right. Without it, political action and resistance to injustice and oppression are impossible. It is a precious right, and we must not allow it to be undermined.