Here at the League of Reason we are all about freedom of speech and as such I feel the need to mention this even though many of us would be happy if people just stopped talking about religion altogether. Now as that is unlikely to happen this is worth looking at as the outcome of this case could end up having an effect on those of us, like Th1sWasATriumph, who are actively involved in debating religious people. Anyway as I write this evangelical Christians, hotel proprietors and owners of a seriously sci-fi surname Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang are awaiting trial accused of breaching public order because they allegedly insulted a guest’s religion. The couple apparently engaged in discussion with a Muslim guest about the differences between their religions during which they are said to have described Muslim dress as putting women into “bondage’ and Mohammed as a “warlord’. Oh noes.
The couple were arrested and charged for this most terrible of crimes under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and Section 31 (1) (c) and (5) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which has dismayed a number of lawyers who consider this a misuse of the act that was designed to deal with law and order problems in the streets. Prominent criminal barrister and expert in religious law Neil Addison had this to say on the matter:
‘The purpose of the Public Order Act is to prevent disorder, but I’m very concerned that the police are using it merely because someone is offended.
‘It should be used where there is violence, yobbish behaviour or gratuitous personal abuse. It should never be used where there has been a personal conversation or debate with views firmly expressed.
‘If someone is in a discussion and they don’t like what they are hearing, they can walk away.’
Now while the church has used this as yet more evidence that they are oh so persecuted I think this is something the rest of us should keep an eye on. If they are convicted then this could set a worrying legal precedent. Right now people have freedom of speech; they do not have the freedom not to be offended. If these people are convicted then the Public Order Act could be used to change all that, at least that is how I read this article. Are there any lawyers out there who could shed some more light on the matter?