Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Police tell pensioner he can't display an atheist sign in his window

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A pensioner from Boston, Lincolnshire, has been told by police that he risks criminal charges if he continues to display an atheist message in the front window of his home, the Boston Standard reports.

John Richards has an A4 sheet with the printed message "religions are fairy stories for adults" in his window, but was recently told by police that he could be arrested under the Public Order Act, which outlaws the display of "any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting", if he does not take it down.

Richards, however, says he will not be removing the message:
“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.

“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.

“I accept that the police emphasised the words could lead to an arrest but the implication is a threat to free speech which surely should be fought.”
Update, 22 June 2012:

Lincolnshire Police have posted a press release on their website with their side of the story:

"Lincolnshire Police have not advised Mr Richards that he faces arrest for the specific posters he is displaying and he is not committing any offences by doing so.

The 1986 Public Order Act states that a person is guilty of an offence if they display a sign which is threatening or abusive or insulting with the intent to provoke violence or which may cause another person harassment, alarm or distress. This is 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.

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 offence had been committed under the Act. In the majority of cases where it was considered that an offence had been committed, the action taken by the officer would be to issue words of advice and request that the sign be removed. Only if this request were refused might an arrest be necessary.

Very explicit or grossly offensive material may be dealt with under alternative legislation."
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