First of all a disclaimer I’m not a lawyer, I’m only a layman extrapolating information from CPS guidelines and legislation.
The last (and hopefully last ever) UK Labour government introduced a particularly pernicious piece of legislation, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 onto the statute books. This Act, in concert with Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 introduced by a previous Conservative administration, have undoubtably had a chilling effect on issues of free speech.
The sillyness of Section 5 of the POA 1986 was illustrated when a student was arrested for calling a police horse ‘gay’. The existence of section 5 of the POA 1986 is a constant threat to those who speak out against Islamic culture and Islamic morality. A big mouth Islamic activist just needs to complain to the police that the words of the anti Islamic piece are ‘insulting’ for an offence to be committed.
However, things may be improving. The recent decision by the House of Lords that Section 5 of the POA 1986 should be removed and that no more should people be arrested for ‘giving insult’. It remains to be seen whether the Government will also think the same way though. In the meantime however, I’d be a little bit careful about calling Mohammed a C**t in the street until this change in the law is done and dusted.
Another thing that people may not be aware of is that in the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act there is a clause permitting freedom of speech regarding religion. As Islam is not a Race it is not covered by the various laws that forbid racial insult or abuse. You might be committing an offence if you said ‘All Pakis / asians are child rapists’ as that is a racial insult and possibly an offence, but stating that ‘there are a disproportionate number of child rapists in the Islamic community’ could well be much less troublesome.
The relevant guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service regarding prosecutions under the 2006 Act is as follows:
This Act received Royal Assent on 16 February 2006, and came into force on 1 October 2007. It creates new offences of stirring up religious hatred, which are significantly different from the race hate offences contained within Part III of the Public Order Act 1986 (above).
The offence is committed if a person uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material, which is threatening, if he intends thereby to stir up religious hatred. Threatening is the operative word, not abusive or insulting. Possession, publication or distribution of inflammatory material is also an offence. The offence can be committed in a public or private place, but not within a dwelling, unless the offending words and behaviour were heard outside the dwelling, and were intended to be heard. The defendant must intend to stir up religious hatred; recklessness is not enough.
So using abusive or insulting behaviour intended to stir up religious hatred does not constitute an offence, nor does using threatening words likely to stir up religious hatred.
There is a freedom of expression defence enshrined in Section 29J of the Act, which “… prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult, or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of its adherents.”
So it is more difficult to prosecute for inciting religious hatred as opposed to racial hatred (for which the standard is already properly high).
Prosecutions for this offence require the consent of the Attorney General and are dealt with under the same arrangements as offences of inciting racial hatred.”
The protection of freedom of expression enshrined in Section 29J of the 2006 Act is very clear about the fact that there should be no restrictions on freedom of speech about religion.
The Act says:
Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.
My reading as a layman, of these laws, is that although a person must not verbally or otherwise attack someone because of their race, which is illegal under other legislation as well as the ones considered here, it is perfectly ok to take the rise out of, or make fun of or insult Islam.
Despite many cases over the years of Islamic groups practising ‘lawfare’ to close down criticism of either their particular group or Islam itself, we still have Section 29J of the 2006 Act which permits us to make fun of Islam.
There is nothing wrong with calling for Muslims as individuals to abandon the crock of shit culture of Islam, there is nothing wrong or illegal in calling the prophet Mohammed a nonce, there is definitely nothing wrong in saying ‘I dislike Islam’. It is not illegal to have ‘Islamo-nausea’. It appears that only when a ‘threat’ made with ‘intent’ against a target is issued does the possiblity of arrest and charge seem likely. It appears that the legislation doesn’t allow prosecutions under the 2006 just for being insulting.
With the hoped for end of the much despised Section 5 of the POA and the protections given by Section 29J of the 2006 RRHA, it seems that – provided that one doesn’t have any intent to threaten – there is a green light to take the piss out of Islam. Lets do that and do it lots and aim some abuse against the fascistic creed of Islam, but let us do it stylishly, and with humour.
To conclude, although there may be ways around the 2006 RRHA and there are changes afoot to the 1986 POA, I would advise you to seek appropriate legal advice where needed as these are not the only two pieces of legislation that could be used to prosecute someone for making negative statements about Islam.
Reform Section 5 Campaign
Text of the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act
Crown Prosecution Service guidance on prosecutions under the 2006 Act.
Wiki on Section 5 Public Order Act 1986