Thursday, May 17, 2012

Feel Free to Insult Me

That's the slogan being used by an incredibly diverse group of people, some of whom are normally "sworn enemies" who are campaigning for a change to Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act.

This law is meant to protect people against threatening or abusive behaviour, unjust discrimination, incitement and violence.

In practice all these things have always been illegal and rightly so - prior to the act someone who, for example, used language which was likely to cause or incite a riot would probably have been charged with "conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace."

This doesn't necessarily mean it was wrong to clarify the law so as to make it absolutely clear that these things are illegal. But protecting people against threats or incitement to violence is one thing: the law should not attempt to protect people against hurt feelings, because such a law is all too easy to turn round and use to attack freedom of speech or belief.

And unfortunately the 1986 act does contain a ridiculous clause making it an offense to use language which anyone in earshot might find insulting.

A number of groups with vastly different agendas, from the National Secular Society to the Christian Institute, Big Brother Watch, gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and Conservative MP David Davis have come together to campaign for this clause to be repealed and they are absolutely 100% right to do so.

During the course of my time involved in politics the vast majority of people I have spoken to who disagreed with me did so in a polite and constructive manner. There have also been a tiny minority who have been extremely rude. This is usually water off the proverbial duck's back, but even if I found this extremely hurtful I would not want the right to have those people prosecuted for "abusive and insulting" behaviour because telling the members of a political party that you strongly disagree with them ought to be within their rights. Even if that view is expressed in arguably offensive language provided it stops short of threatening or inciting violence.

The same should apply to the expression of views for or against any religion or religious view (including atheism).

As the ‘Reform Section 5’ campaign said: “The law rightly protects us against unjust discrimination, incitement and violence. It should not be used to protect us from having our feelings hurt.”

2 comments:

Jim said...

This post has given me a bit of a conundrum. I would have obliged and insulted you, but the problem is I totally agree with you on this. :o)

Chris Whiteside said...

Apologies for the delay publishing this comment - afraid the SPAM filters were what in a human we would call a bit overzealous.