Feel free to insult me: campaigners
Calls to scrap Public Order Act in UK
An unlikely coalition of lawmakers and activists came together in Britain on Wednesday to urge people to "feel free to insult me" in a campaign for the repeal of a law banning public insults.
Groups including the Christian Institute, the National Secular Society and a noted gay rights campaigner, led by a lawmaker from the ruling Conservative Party, called for the relevant section of the Public Order Act to be scrapped.
They said it has been used to arrest a teenage boy who held a placard reading "Scientology is a dangerous cult" and a student who joked that a police officer's horse was "gay," though both were eventually released without charge.
The wording, which bars people from using "insulting words or behaviour" in the hearing of someone likely "to be caused harassment, alarm or distress," has also been used against protesters and street preachers.
Conservative lawmaker David Davis said the ban, known as Section 5, was having a "terrible, chilling effect on democracy," while a poll commissioned by the campaign said 62 percent of lawmakers would support its repeal.
But 17 percent thought repealing it would undermine the ability of the police to protect the public, and one in five thought it would penalise minorities.
"We've sunk our differences to defend free speech," gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell wrote in the Times newspaper. He said he was arrested and charged under Section 5 in 1994 when he protested against the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir.
"Members of this Islamist group had endorsed the killing of Jews, gays, apostates and women who have sex outside marriage," he wrote.
"I displayed placards that documented the persecution of gay people by Islamist fanatics...
"I fought the charges and won, but not before spending many hours in police cells and standing trial."
He added that great thinkers such as Galileo and Darwin had caused "great offence and distress in their time."
The Public Order Act became law in 1986 in the wake of the miners' strikes across Britain, a key standoff between trade unions and authorities.
The campaigners said Wednesday that separate British laws protect people against discrimination, incitement and violence.
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