Tuesday 20 May 2008

Teenage protester arrested for telling the truth

It seems a 15 year old protester is facing prosecution for refusing to take down a banner that accused Scientology of being a 'cult'. The police warned him that he was infringing section five of the Public Order Act which 'prohibits signs which have representations or words which are threatening, abusive or insulting'.

Now, either the police are being over-zealous in their interpretation of the law - or the law is a bad one and needs to be repealed forthwith. Either way, the case represents a serious threat to freedom of expression. In the way they are enforcing the Act, the authorities are granting greater protection against 'offence' to religious groups than they would to other bodies. Does any one believe the protester would have been bothered by the police if he'd been accusing a political party of being a 'cult'?

Using the law in this way seems like a back-door way of re-introducing the controversial parts of the religious hatred bill that were thrown out by Parliament in 2006. The government should act swiftly to clarify the law and protect freedom of expression against the prickly sensitivities of religionists.

The Merriem-Webster online dictionary gives this as one of the definitions of a cult: 'A religion or sect considered to be false unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader'. Scientologists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian and Muslim fundamentalists take note. 

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