LONDON, May 30, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – 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.
As with many recently installed “hate speech” laws around the western world, the act of saying something that could be deemed “offensive” is not enough to garner charges under the current law. Only if another person subjectively “feels offended” are charges laid under Section 5, a situation that civil liberties campaigners have said leaves such laws an open field for abuse.
The MPs’ attempt to ameliorate the situation in Britain has received the surprise backing of one of the country’s most virulent anti-Christian campaigners. 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.
Sanderson, who is one of the leading voices in Britain to abolish all public acknowledgement of Christianity, told media, “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.”
The law outlaws “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour” and behaviour that is “likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress”. Edward Leigh said that it is the subjectivity of the term “insulting” that is the problem.
“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.”
Leigh cited the case of Liverpool Christian hoteliers, Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, who were prosecuted under Section 5 after a Muslim guest complained she had been offended following a discussion about Islam.
“I am sure we all agree that free speech is a bedrock of true democracy. It encompasses the freedom to disagree and to challenge received opinion.
“We might not like what someone says and we might take offence, but lively debate and a robust exchange of ideas are integral parts of a true democracy.”
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.”