Rowan Atkinson and Fry back campaign to make insults legal
Is there anybody who doesn't support campaign to drop Section 5, which makes it an offence to insult somebody?
ROWAN ATKINSON has launched a campaign against a 26-year-old law which has led to the arrest of peaceful protesters deemed to be guilty of insulting behaviour.
The Blackadder actor was speaking at an event to launch the 'Reform Section 5' campaign, which is backed by Christians and secularists alike. "The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such," said Atkinson. "Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, can be interpreted as insult."
Section 5 is part of the Public Order Act 1986, which outlaws the use of words, behaviour or signs that are "threatening, abusive or insulting" near a person likely to be offended by them.
It has led to the arrests of an Oxford University student who asked a mounted police officer if he knew his horse was gay, a protester outside the London HQ of the Church of Scientology holding a placard saying 'Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult', and Christian hoteliers who were accused of asking a Muslim guest if she was a terrorist because she was wearing a hijab. All three cases were later dismissed.
Campaigners say the Public Order Act is being abused by over-zealous police and prosecutors, according to the Daily Mail. Last night, Atkinson said he wanted to "deal with the Outrage Industry: self-appointed arbiters of the public good, encouraging media-stoked outrage, to which the police feel under terrible pressure to react".
He said Facebook and Twitter had exposed "how appallingly prickly and intolerant society has become of even the mildest adverse comment".
Atkinson was joined by backbench Conservative MP David Davis, who said: "The simple truth is that in a free society, there is no right not to be offended.
"For centuries, freedom of speech has been a vital part of British life, and repealing this law will reinstate that right."
'National treasure' Stephen Fry has also lent his considerable weight – he has nearly 5 million followers on Twitter – to the campaign, tweeting: "Insults aren't nice. But should they be illegal? Support my friends in removing 'insulting' from public order act."
The Reform Section 5 campaign has managed to unite such unlikely partners as the Christian Institute and National Secular Society, gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
Rod Liddle comments on this breadth of support in his Spectator column, saying he can find "nobody who wishes - in public at least" for Section 5 not to be reformed.
"Desmond Morris once posited that almost anything can be interpreted as an insult - depending upon the disposition of the person or creature who is perceived to be the victim. It has no objective status," he writes.
"I suspect I contravene Section 5 of the Public Order Act on a daily, if not hourly, basis. My wife claims that she is sometimes woken by me contravening it in my sleep."