Mike Judge is Head of Communications for the Christian Instititute.
Please don’t be insulted and distressed by the opinions expressed in this article, I don’t want to be arrested by the police. It’s no joke. There have been a number of troubling cases where police officers have unjustly arrested people for using “insulting” words likely to cause “distress” contrary to Section 5 of the Public Order Act.
In 2008 a 16-year-old boy was protesting outside a Scientology centre. He faced a criminal trial because he was holding a sign describing Scientology as a “cult”. The police relied upon Section 5 of the Public Order Act. The advocacy group, Liberty, took up his case amid widespread criticism of the police.
In 2006 demonstrators in Worcester were 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 demonstrators were threatened with arrest and seizure of property under Section 5 of the Public Order Act.
In December last year, Christian couple Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang stood trial for “insulting” a Muslim lady during a discussion about religion. During the discussion the couple said Jesus is the Son of God not a prophet of Islam, and they expressed concern that Islamic dress code for women could be oppressive.
The comments are hardly extreme, but astonishingly the couple were arrested and charged with breaching Section 5 of the Public Order Act. After a two-day trial at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court the criminal case against them was, quite rightly, dismissed by the judge who also criticised the way the case was handled.