Christians Defend Freedom of Speech of Atheist Who Believes "Religions are fairy stories for adults"
By - Crossmap On June 25, 2012
The Christian Institute and the National Secular Society have come to the defense of an 89-year old atheist who felt as if his freedom of speech was in jeopardy. The man claims that he was threatened with an arrest by police because of a anti-religion sign he posted on the window of his home. Community members see this case as a prime example as to why Britain's Public Order Act needs a revision.
John Richards, stated in reports, that police said he could be arrested at any time if the sign he placed on his Lincolnshire County home in East England stirred any complaints. The sign read: "Religions are fairy stories for adults."
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"I am an atheist and I feel people are being misled by religion. I wanted to show people that if they thought they were alone there was at least one other person who thought that," Richards said to the Boston Standard last week.
"The police said I could be arrested if somebody complained and said they were insulted, but the sign was up two years ago and nobody responded or smashed the window," Richards continued.
The heart of the problem rest on Britain's Public Order Acts of 1986. Richards was told he could be in violation of Section 5 of the Act, which forbids "harassment, alarm or distress" of anyone as a result of the sign.
"The part particular to Richards says that a person is guilty of an offense and could be arrested without a warrant if he 'displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person' who would find the display distressing," The Christian Post reported.
While the police did not explicitly threaten to put Richards in jail, the atheist still admits that he felt threatened nonetheless.
"I accept that the police emphasized the words could lead to an arrest but the implication is a threat to free speech which surely should be fought," Richards said.
The Christian Institute came to Richard's defense when agreeing that even the suggestion of an arrest was wrong.
"It is an intimidating experience for law-abiding people to be told by officers that their beliefs are against the law. Even where no arrest is ever made, it exerts a dangerous chilling effect on free speech," said Simon Calvert of The Christian Institute, a nondenominational charity promoting biblical principles in the UK.
Throughout the uproar this matter has caused in the town, the Lincolnshire Police disclosed a statement that claimed they never threatened to arrest Richards. The police noted that an arrest would be made if the person in violation of the law would refuse to remove the offensive sign.
"If a complaint is received by the police in relation to a sign displayed in a person's window, an officer would attend and make a reasoned judgement about whether an offense had been committed under the Act," read the statement republished by the Boston Standard.
The Christian Institute believes that the police misemploy the Public Order Act.
"The [Christian Institute] noted that Richards case was another example of why some citizens, including lawmakers, thought it was high time to revamp the Act, especially for the term "insulting" to be cut from the legislation," The Christian Post reported.
The organization is teaming up with the National Secular Society in their "Reform Section 5" initiative for an amendment.
"At best, Section 5 is the legal embodiment of a well-meaning bureaucrat, and at worse it is used as a way of silencing those who the authorities don't agree with - be they religious preachers, political activists or protesters," the campaign website reads.
Richards expressed that freedom of speech prompts risks for everyone and that it would be hard to prove "distress" in anyone's case of expressing their views.
"In an email to the police I did say that I could be distressed by signs outside a church saying 'Jesus Saves.' But I don't go around saying that they should be taking them down. Freedom of speech means anyone can express their views," he said.