The Christian Institute (CI) has issued an open letter to the churches in the UK, calling on all Christians as individuals to lobby their MPs.
It reads: ‘Do you remember Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang? They are the Christian couple from Liverpool who stood trial last year because a Muslim woman felt “insulted” when the couple disagreed with her Islamic beliefs.
‘The Vogelenzangs didn’t say anything unlawful – the case against them was eventually thrown out by the judge. But they were arrested and prosecuted because the Muslim felt “insulted” by their Christian comments.
‘The CI does not want to see any more unjust prosecutions like this one, so it is asking Christians to tell their MPs that the Freedom Bill should repeal the word “insulting” from Section 5 of the Public Order Act.
‘The CI is urging Christians to meet their MPs face-to-face about this important matter. Section 5 of the Public Order Act criminalises: “threatening, abusive or insulting” words or behaviour, which are likely to cause “harassment, alarm or distress”.
‘The Public Order Act was originally introduced to tackle serious public disorder, such as football hooliganism. But in a politically-correct climate the Section 5 offence is being misapplied, becoming something more like a “thought crime” than a public order measure.
‘Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) – an influential group of MPs and Peers – has also called for the word “insulting” to be removed from Section 5. The JCHR said it was concerned by evidence that Section 5 had “been used to prevent people from freely expressing their views on matters of concern to them”.
‘The Committee did not think that language or behaviour which is merely “insulting” should be criminalised in this way. It recommended deleting the word “insulting” from Section 5 “so that it cannot be used inappropriately to suppress the right to free speech”.
‘Justice, a civil liberties organisation, has also expressed deep concern over the misuse of Section 5 cases and agrees that the word “insulting” should be repealed from the offence.
‘The experience of the Vogelenzangs shows the damaging effects of the current wording of Section 5. Even though the case against them was dismissed, their hotel business was devastated by the prosecution.
‘They had to close their business in September this year. We are happy to report that they are launching a new social enterprise venture that will include offering respite holidays for armed forces families and other family groups. We hope this is a success, but they should never have faced a criminal prosecution in the first place.
‘Narrowing the scope of Section 5 by removing the word “insulting” would be simple. It would influence police on the ground. It would be ideally suited to the purpose of the Freedom Bill. The Bill is part of the coalition government’s plan to restore civil liberties and repeal unnecessary laws.
‘This is a real opportunity to help roll back a law that has unjustly limited free speech and religious liberty. Taking action now could have a positive, lasting effect on free speech for a generation.
‘It would be tremendously helpful if Christians arranged a face-to-face meeting with their MP. Local constituency offices have details of times and venues when it is possible to see an MP. Details are also usually available at public libraries or from the local press or via the internet.
‘Repealing the word “insulting” won’t solve the problem overnight, but it will be a great step in the right direction. Nobody should face a criminal trial for merely expressing an opinion’. (More information: christian.org.uk/section5).