One of the great divides between the United States and England is the scope and protection given to free speech, particularly when it comes to the media. Now, it appears that even a speech during a protest is regulated by the government. An unnamed teenager was charged criminally after he held up a sign reading “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult.” Whether true or not, it is a view shared by many around the world. It also appears to be a crime to utter in England.
The case is an outrage against free speech. The teenager was peacefully protesting in front of the Church of Scientology headquarters when after a few minutes, a police officer stopped the youth and told that he was not allowed to use the word “cult” because it was “abusive and insulting”. The police woman read him section five of the Public Order Act which prohibits signs with representations or words which are threatening, abusive or insulting.
The teenager correctly refused and even quoted a 1984 high court ruling from Mr Justice Latey, in which he described the Church of Scientology as a “cult” which was “corrupt, sinister and dangerous”.
He was then given a summons and had his sign confiscated.
The incident has raised concerns about the close relationship between City of London police and the church. City of London Chief Superintendent, Kevin Hurley, spoke at the opening of the headquarters in 2006 and praised Scientology for “raising the spiritual wealth of society.” Twenty officers were found to have received gifts from the Church.
The protest case should rally civil libertarians around the world. There has been a disturbing increase in state regulation of speech, particularly toward religions. Recently, cartoonists have been targeted by the state censorship of Western nations, click here.
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