Speech in Britain:

According to a British newspaper,

A PREACHER who spoke out against the “sin” of homosexuality — inflaming a Bournemouth crowd and sparking a furore over freedom of speech — was rightly convicted of a public order offence, top judges have ruled. . . .

The late Mr Hammond, a preacher for 20 years, was prosecuted after holding a controversial sign while preaching in The Square, Bournemouth, in October 2001.

The sign contained the words: “Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism”, as well as making references to Jesus.

Lord Justice May, sitting with Mr Justice Harrison, at the High Court in London, was told the sign caused a furore as a group of 30 to 40 people gathered round.

Hugh Tomlinson, QC, appearing for Mr Hammond’s executors [Hammond had died by then], said: “He (Mr Hammond) was subjected to a number of assaults. Soil was thrown at him and water poured over his head.

“Someone tried to seize the sign and he was knocked to the ground. He was the victim of the assault, not the perpetrator.” . . .

Mr Hammond was eventually arrested for a breach of the peace. He was then charged and convicted under the 1986 Public Order Act for displaying a sign which was “threatening, abusive or insulting within the sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress”.

He was fined £300 and ordered to pay £395 in legal costs.

The magistrates decided the restriction on Mr Hammond’s right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights had the legitimate aim of preventing disorder in the light of the crowd’s reaction to his sign.

They concluded his behaviour went beyond that of legitimate protest.

Mr Tomlinson said that it had been wrong to prosecute Mr Hammond under public order legislation because he did not use offensive, stereotypical language on his sign.

Lord Justice May told the court: “I have not found this question easy because it is certainly correct that the words on the sign are short and not expressed in intemperate language.

“I have considered very carefully whether the court should conclude that the words on the sign were incapable of being held to be insulting.

“And I have come to the conclusion that it was open to the magistrates to reach the conclusion that they did.” . . .

The heckler’s veto seems alive and well in England — if you express political, social, or religious views (not just personal face-to-face insults, but general ideological statements) that are “[]capable of being held to be insulting,” and people attack you for it, then you might be the one who ends up being prosecuted. Incidentally, if any readers know whether any of Hammond’s attackers were also prosecuted, I’d like to hear about it. Thanks to reader Ken Hirsch for the pointer.

UPDATE: Eric Rasmusen has more. Among other things, he reports that apparently none of Hammond’s attackers were prosecuted.

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