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A salute to the defenders of free speech

They include a fifteen-year-old boy who used the word "cult" to describe a religion, barrister Shami Chakrabarti and Liberty, and possibly the Crown Prosecution Service. John Stephenson reports -

This could definitely be a test case for Britain on whether their many libel laws will destroy their traditions of free speech. The slippery slope argument is also the first reaction from human rights lawyers like Shami Chakrabarti quoted as saying, “This barmy prosecution makes a mockery of Britain’s free speech traditions. After criminalizing the use of the word ‘cult’, perhaps the next step is to ban the words ‘war’ and ‘tax’ from peaceful demonstrations?”

. . .Thankfully, cooler and wiser heads have prevailed and free speech lives another day. The Crown Prosecution Service told the police they would not be prosecuting the boy. International attention and strong support from human rights groups like Liberty may have been influential in this decision. Whatever the reason for the decision, it was the right one and a victory for free speech.

The absurd law needs to be binned. For one thing, it confuses actions with words. Even children - singing "sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me" - know the difference.

Public Order Act 1986,
5. Harassment, alarm or distress.
- (1) A person is guilty of an offence if he - (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

Are we paper flowers to crumple at a distressing word? Our words are our birthright. They must be free.


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