Secularist campaigner backs free speech amendment

An amendment to improve the law on free speech has been welcomed as “common sense” by a leading secular campaigner.

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society (NSS), has lent his backing to the amendment, saying he doesn’t see “what the argument against it would be”.

Earlier this month Edward Leigh, a senior Conservative MP, tabled the amendment to remove the word “insulting” from Section 5 of the Public Order Act.


Mr Sanderson added: “I think that most people who value free speech, and that’s most democrats, would say that it’s common sense to say that you cannot take offence and then call in the law to say my feelings must be protected.”

And former Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris, who is a secularist and free speech campaigner, said that Section 5 needed to be “removed from the statute book altogether”, during an interview with Premier Christian Radio.

The free speech amendment, which is due to be debated in the House of Commons next month, is backed by several MPs including Lib Dem President, Tim Farron, and Labour’s Tom Watson, a former Government Minister.


An additional six MPs from across the parties have signed the amendment.

Civil rights groups Liberty and Justice, along with Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, have previously called for Section 5 to be amended.

In 2006 demonstrators in Worcester were threatened with arrest and seizure of property under Section 5 for protesting against seal culling using toy seals coloured with red food dye.


Police informed them that the toys were deemed distressing by two members of the public. The police then ordered them to move on.

In 2008 a 16-year-old protester faced a trial for holding a placard outside a Scientology centre saying: “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult.”

The police referred to the Crown Prosecution Service the allegation that the sign was “abusive or insulting”. The case was later dropped.

In 2009 hotel owners Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang were arrested under Section 5 of the Public Order Act for criticising Islam. Though they were found innocent, the couple’s business was devastated by the ordeal.

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