A controversial law which bans “insulting” language is a “step too far”, David Davis MP has warned.
The former Shadow Home Secretary said that punishing mere insults under section 5 of the Public Order Act is a “serious restriction on free speech.”
In a comment piece for business newspaper City A.M., Mr Davis outlined his support for the campaign to reform section 5, which is backed by The Christian Institute.
He cited examples where people have been arrested because police decided someone in the vicinity could have been offended if they had heard what was said.
He said: “This ludicrous degree of latitude has seen a teenager fined for saying ‘woof’ to a dog, a protestor charged for calling Scientology a ‘cult’ and a student spend a night in the cells for calling a horse ‘gay’.”
He also referred to the case of street preacher Dale Mcalpine, who was arrested and fined for saying he sometimes preaches that homosexual conduct is a sin.
Mr Davis said even gay rights activist Peter Tatchell saw this as “an outrageous assault on civil liberties.”
Mr Davis highlighted the subjective nature of the term insulting, saying “What one person finds offensive another will laugh at or ignore.”
He said that whilst nobody likes being insulted, “we must remember the law is there to protect our safety, not spare our feelings”.
Mr Davis emphasised the “huge support” that the Reform Section 5 campaign has, and noted that “when Christian groups and the National Secular Society unite to oppose a law, you know that law must be misguided”.
Earlier this month, Mr Davis hosted a parliamentary reception for the campaign, at which comedian Rowan Atkinson spoke in support of dropping the word “insulting” from section 5.
Mr Atkinson cautioned against “a new but intense desire to gag uncomfortable voices of dissent” – something he said could be called a “New Intolerance”.