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Possible Prosecution in England for Calling Scientology "Cult" on Sign:

The Guardian (UK) reports:

A teenager is facing prosecution for using the word "cult" to describe the Church of Scientology.

The unnamed 15-year-old was served the summons by City of London police when he took part in a peaceful demonstration opposite the London headquarters of the controversial religion....

A policewoman ... read him section five of the Public Order Act and "strongly advised" him to remove the sign. The section prohibits signs which have representations or words which are threatening, abusive or insulting.

The teenager refused to back down, quoting 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".

After the exchange, a policewoman handed him a court summons and removed his sign....

A spokeswoman for the force said today: "City of London police had received complaints about demonstrators using the words 'cult' and 'Scientology kills' during protests against the Church of Scientology.

"Following advice from the Crown Prosecution Service some demonstrators were warned verbally and in writing that their signs breached section five of the Public Order Act.

"One demonstrator continued to display a placard despite police warnings and was reported for an offence under section five. A file on the case will go to the CPS."

Here's what appears to be the teenager's report of the incident, which the article appears to quote:

I brought a sign to the May 10th protest that said: "Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult".

Within 5 minutes of arriving at QVS, I was told by a member of the police that I was not allowed to use 'that word', and that the final decision would be made by the Inspector.

At around 11:15, while on the high ground of QVS, I was approached by these happy fellows: YouTube - Anonymous Protests Scientology - London - May 10th2008 (:40)

I was read the Section 5 Public Order Act of 1986, and was told I was strongly advised to remove the sign. You can see my response in the video, as I read out Justice Latey's statement about the Cult of Scientology. I was given until 11:30 to remove the sign.

At around 12:05 the police caught up with me, I was given a Court Summons and my details were taken down....

Thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. "No Charges Over [Anti-]Scientology Demo[nstration]":
  2. Possible Prosecution in England for Calling Scientology "Cult" on Sign:
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"No Charges Over [Anti-]Scientology Demo[nstration]":

The BBC reports:

Legal action has been dropped against a 15-year-old who faced prosecution for branding Scientology a "cult".

The teenager held up a sign which read, "Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult", in May outside its headquarters in the City of London.

City of London Police said it had received complaints and warned the teenager to get rid of the sign as it breached the Public Order Act.

More on the incident in this post. Here's my question:

A Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) spokesman said: "In consultation with the City of London Police, we were asked whether the sign was abusive or insulting.

"Our advice is that it is not abusive or insulting and there is no offensiveness (as opposed to criticism), neither in the idea expressed nor in the mode of expression."

Can anyone who is familiar with English law tell me what "abusive," "insulting," and "offensive," which are apparently terms of art, mean? ("Abusive" and "insulting" appears to be the statutory test; "offensive" seems to be the Crown Prosecution Service's interpretation of the terms.)

I would think that calling a religion a "cult" would be offensive and insulting in the lay sense of the word -- it may be quite right, and it should certainly be constitutionally protected, but despite its being offensive and insulting, not somehow "there is no offensiveness" there. So what's the legal rule in England about what's allowed and what's not?

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. "No Charges Over [Anti-]Scientology Demo[nstration]":
  2. Possible Prosecution in England for Calling Scientology "Cult" on Sign:
23 Comments