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:
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.
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?