Co-belligerent Secularists and Christians force government to reform Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act
An unlikely coalition of Christians and Secularists joining together in a rare act of unity has forced the government to reform Section 5 of the Public Order Act to give more protection to free speech.
Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act says a person is guilty of an offence if:
(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.
It was the word “Insulting” that caused the consternation, confusion and subsequent abuse of the Public Order Act. It’s a very vague and subjective term that allowed too much discretion in application.
This Act had been used against Christians on quite a few occasions, most notably in the case of Jamie Murray, owner of the Salt & Light Coffee House.
This was a truly bizarre incident in which the displaying of Scripture on a video screen prompted a police visit following a complaint. The police notified Murray that he was displaying offensive or insulting words which breached Section 5 of the Public Order Act; in other words, the Biblical texts contravened the act.
Today the Christian Institute are declaring “Victory”:
The Government gave way tonight, and agreed to reform Section 5 of the Public Order Act to give more protection to free speech.
Campaign group Reform Section 5 (RS5) has been pushing for the change, which has seen many controversial arrests.
Today, in the House of Commons, Home Secretary Theresa May said the word ‘insulting’ would be removed from Section 5 of the Public Order Act, as part of the Crime and Courts Bill.
The amendment to the law was put forward by Lord Dear, a former HM Inspector of Constabulary, and when discussed in the House of Lords, peers voted by 150 to 54 in favour of the change.
The Government today announced that it would not overturn the amendment but will allow it to become law.
This is very good news for freedom of speech in this country.
— ReformSection5 (@ReformSection5) January 14, 2013