Speak the truth and face arrest ….

I recently received a message through youtube.

I’ll quote the message, then give you a brief legal background.

I’ll finish off with a few questions for you.   I’d appreciate your views.

PLEASE NOTE – NOTHING IN THIS POST IS INTENDED TO BE TAKEN AS LEGAL ADVICE – NOR A DEFINITIVE STATEMENT AS TO THE LAW

The message I received, from someone I will name as “M”, was this:

“Dear dprjones,
I see you are in the UK, perhaps you can advise.
I was walking through [removed at author’s request] a month or so ago, when a preacher and his mate asked me if I was “a believer”.
I told him that a was a “pessimistic agnostic” at best but did not totally dismiss the idea of God, but (i admit in a smart-arsed way) told him that I did not totally dismiss Reading’s chances of being premier league champions next season, i.e. very very unlikely.
He went on to tell me I was morally repugnant, which I took as an insult as I condem violence, murder etc as much as the fluffiest CofE types. Already in a bad mood I pointed out that the God of Genesis committed Mass Murder on the scale of Hitler.
I walked away and sat on a bench further up the road when I was approached by a policeman who told me that my words were bordering on religous hatred and if I repeated it I would be arrested and charged with inciting racial hatred. Not wishing to stir the matter i just smiled and said “of course officer” but later wish I had stood up for myself.
Do you know my rights on this? Am I supposed to stand by and be bullied by these bastards? After all he was wrong as I consider myself to be a largely morally good person, where I just paraphrased from a book which they believe is absolute.
I do not go as far as saying I am a victim of crime, or anything else but surely the moral wrong here was done to myself.
If you could offer some advice I would be grateful.
Regards …

Firstly, did the police officer have the power to arrest “M”?

Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 reads as follows:

(1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—
(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
….
(4)  A constable may arrest a person without warrant if—
(a)  he engages in offensive conduct which a constable warns him to stop, and
(b)  he engages in further offensive conduct immediately or shortly after the warning.
(5)  In subsection (4) “offensive conduct” means conduct the constable reasonably suspects to constitute an offence under this section …

So, at first blush, it appears that “M” could have been arrested if he had “engaged” in further “offensive” conduct.

But what is offensive about his statement that “god committed genocide on the scale of Hitler”?  It is a statement of fact if the old testament is to be believed.  Indeed the god of the old testament killed far more than Hitler.

(The legal test as to what is “offensive” and whether it is subjective or objective test is a matter I do not intend to deal with.)

The next consideration is the amendment (or addition) made to section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 by section 31 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which states:

(1)  A person is guilty of an offence under this section if he commits—

(c)  an offence under section 5 of that Act (harassment, alarm or distress),
which is racially or religiously aggravated for the purposes of this section.

And the definition of “racially or religiously aggravated” is given in section 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which reads as follows:

(1)  An offence is racially or religiously aggravated for the purposes of sections 29 to 32 below if—
(a)  at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrates towards the victim of the offence hostility based on the victim’s membership (or presumed membership) of a racial or religious group; or
….
(b)  the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards members of a racial or religious group] based on their membership of that group.
(2)  In subsection (1)(a) above—
“membership”, in relation to a racial or religious group, includes association with members of that group;
“presumed” means presumed by the offender.
(3)  It is immaterial for the purposes of paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1) above whether or not the offender’s hostility is also based, to any extent, on any other factor not mentioned in that paragraph.
(4)  In this section “racial group” means a group of persons defined by reference to race, colour, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins.
(5)In this section “religious group” means a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief.

What is of significant is the last subsection, which was amended by the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001, namely:

(5)  In this section “religious group” means a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief.

We know that “M” lacks a religious belief.

Given that background would you agree with the following statements, and if not why not?

1.  “M” is entitled to the protection of the law, (as set out in section 5 of the Public Order Act (as amended))?

2.  The statement that “M” is “morally repugnant” is more offensive than making an accurate statement of the god of the old testament?  It is, in the words of section 5, “abusive” and “insulting”?

3.  If anyone was guilty of an offence under section 5 of the Public Order Act it was the street preachers rather than “M”?

4.  The actions of the police officer are an example of the religious being afforded greater protection under the law than they deserve or warrant?

In short, is it more offensive for a theist to tell an atheist that they are “morally repugnant” or for an atheist to point out to a christian that their god has a greater body count that Hitler?

Should street preachers face prosecution under section 5 for “abusive” and “insulting” words against atheists?

What do you think?

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3 Responses to Speak the truth and face arrest ….

  1. JEM says:

    1) Yes, although section 5 is non-sensical because interprets “atheism” as a religious group
    2) Even if M made a wrong statement about the bible, it would be less offensive because he wouldn’t be insulting the person engaged with. US law protects people – including religious groups – but doesn’t protect god(s) against true or false claims.
    3) I would really say that neither violated it as the situation was described. And to say who did what, we would really need to hear both sides describing what happened.
    4) I would say “yes”, but again, we are only hearing one side of the argument.

    It is more repugnant to acuse someone you don’t know as morally repugnant.

    cheers

  2. Saying that the bible committed genocide on the scale of hitler is simply stating what was in the bible. If that is offensive to people, then I suggest they arrest the one who wrote those offensive things (kind of late for that). And the double standard, what about the preacher? He was being offensive towards M and should have been issued the same warning. Was he? Probably not. Besides what if I’m offended that your offended? Talk about a bad a law.

  3. ADT_Clone says:

    I think you’ve got to look at this from the point of view of who the insult was directed at.

    Case 1: Theist tells atheist that they are morally repugnant.

    The subject of this claim is the atheist. Therefore, the theist is directly making the claim that the atheist is morally repugnant. We then have to work out whether the above phrase is “offensive”.

    Morally repugnant – adj. Causing revulsion to people who have high moral values, moral standards, and moral character. [1]

    So essentially the theist was making the claim that the atheist’s moral values revolted him. In absence of any evidence that the atheist did indeed perform any immoral actions in the presence of the theist, the theist MUST have made the assumption in knowledge of his atheism. Thus by calling the atheist “morally repugnant” based on his atheistic stereotype, the theist violates 1. a), Section 28 and consequently 1. c), Section 5 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Therefore, the theist is capable of being punished if that phrase or pursuing phrases were indeed offensive.

    This argument does not apply if the atheist did indeed show immoral values.

    Case 2: The atheist tells the theist that “the God of Genesis committed Mass Murder on the scale of Hitler.”

    There is no direct subject of this claim. This claim does not directly point to a human subject, rather the subject is God. Since the subject is God, and the theist believes in such God, it is possible that the theist is being insulted indirectly. We then have to look into the motive of the statement.

    The motive of the statement is in response to the atheist being called “morally repugnant”. It can be assumed that as the statement does not have a subject who is directly the theist, that the statement was meant to provide a counter example of what the theists morality actually is.

    By likening the theists God to “Hitler”, who is agreed in consensus to be immoral, the atheist is stating that God is immoral. The atheists offence is in line with the definition of an offence(1. c), Section 5 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998), in that he is making a statement based on the theists religious group. However, is this considered offensive? Does this provoke hostility?

    As the atheist did not directly address the theist as the subject of his statement, the answer would be indirectly.

    The question that was asked was whether it was more offensive for a theist to tell an atheist that they were morally repugnant or a atheist to tell a theist that their God committed mass murder on the scale of Hitler. I would have to conclude it is more offensive for the theist to tell the atheist they were morally repugnant as this is a more direct statement than the indirect statement offered by the atheist. As per the arguments above, this has been shown. Therefore, the theist is in the wrong in this scenario.

    (1) http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=morally%20repugnant

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