Sign calling religions ‘fairy stories’ is deemed potentially offensive

An elderly man who has put up a sign in his window stating that ‘Religions are fairy stories for adults’ has received a warning from Lincolnshire Police. John Richards was told that his sign might contravene the Public Order Act 1986, which dictates that it is an offence to display signs that are threatening, abusive or insulting, and could cause distress. If the police received any complaints, Richards would be asked to take it down. The British Humanist Association (BHA) believes that the action of the police in this case was totally unnecessary, and demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the current law.

The Public Order Act has come under fire recently, with calls for reform to a law that doesn’t make ‘insulting words or behaviour’ an offence. A number of cases have been highlighted where the law has been invoked in ridiculous circumstances, including against a 16-year-old protester holding a placard that called Scientology ‘a dangerous cult’ and members of the LGBT group Outrage! who were shouting slogans and displaying placards that condemned the persecution of LGBT people by Islamic governments.

A statement issued by Lincolnshire Police regarding the implementation of the Public Order Act said that it was ‘balanced with a right to free speech and the key point is that the offence is committed if it is deemed that a reasonable person would find the content insulting.’

Commenting on the story, BHA Head of Public Affairs, Pavan Dhaliwal, said:

‘It seems extremely unlikely that any “reasonable person” would find Richards’ sign offensive, whether they agreed with it or not. The police’s intervention in the matter shows how subjective the law is, and how it has the real potential to stifle free speech. Everybody is familiar with large signs in front of places of worship, professing a religion’s belief in the existence of a god or gods; Richards’ sign does not seem to be substantially different from these.

‘The BHA strongly believes that people should have the ability to criticise religion without facing legal consequences.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 0773 843 5059.

The story from the Boston Standard: http://www.bostonstandard.co.uk/news/local/update-police-now-issue-statement-on-boston-pensioner-s-religions-are-fairy-stories-poster-1-3962839

Lincolnshire Police’s response: http://www.lincs.police.uk/News-Centre/News-Releases-2012/Atheist%20Poster%20Story,%20Boston%20-%20The%20Facts.html

The Public Order Act 1986: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1986/64

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.