POLICE have this afternoon issued a statement to clarify their position over a Boston pensioner who has vowed to display a poster labelling religions as ‘fairy stories’.
Officers say that they have not told John Richards he is committing an offence for displaying the poster but said he could only face arrest if he causes offence and refuses to take the poster down when they ask.
In a statement Lincolnshire Police said the 1986 Public Order Act states that a person is guilty of an offence if they display a sign which is threatening or abusive or insulting with the intent to provoke violence or which may cause another person harassment, alarm or distress.
The statement adds: “This is balanced with a right to free speech and the key point is that the offence is committed if it is deemed that a reasonable person would find the content insulting.
“If a complaint is received by the police in relation to a sign displayed in a person’s window, an officer would attend and make a reasoned judgement about whether an offence had been committed under the Act.
“In the majority of cases where it was considered that an offence had been committed, the action taken by the officer would be to issue words of advice and request that the sign be removed.
“Only if this request were refused might an arrest be necessary.
“Very explicit or grossly offensive material may be dealt with under alternative legislation.”
A BOSTON OAP who vowed to defy police advice and display an atheist poster has attracted national interest - and an offer of support from the National Secular Society.
John Richards was advised that putting up a poster at his Vauxhall Road home denouncing religions as ‘fairy stories’ could be an offence under the Public Order Act.
Since publishing the story in last week’s paper and on this website the story has provoked a strong reaction, with comments on Facebook and Twitter, where it was tweeted by BBC Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine.
Mr Vine said: “I do not, will not, cannot believe this story.”
The story has also appeared on the website of the National Secular Society (NSS), which plans to use Mr Richards as a case study in its fight to reform the Public Order Act.
Section 5 dictates that it is an offence to display any sign which is threatening, abusive or insulting, and could cause distress.
The NSS wants this section scrapped.
President Terry Sanderson told The Standard: “These kind of cases are completely over the top.
“People have got to learn to get a thicker skin.
“We feel very strongly that he should be able to do this – it is a very mild poster.
“I don’t think it is threatening, surely in a democratic society you have got to be able to say that?
“This is an excellent example. He hasn’t come a cropper with the police yet but if he does we would give him some support.”
A DEFIANT pensioner is planning to stand up for his beliefs by putting an atheist poster in his front window – even though police have advised him not to.
John Richards was told by officers that he may face arrest if he put up the sign at his Vauxhall Road home, as it could breach the Public Order Act by distressing passers by.
But Mr Richards has decided to stand up for his beliefs, and stick the poster up, saying that such action implies a threat to free speech.
The sign states ‘religions are fairy stories for adults’.
He told The Standard: “The police said I could be arrested if somebody complained and said they were insulted, but the sign was up two years ago and nobody responded or smashed the window.
“I am an atheist and I feel people are being misled by religion. I wanted to show people that if they thought they were alone there was at least one other person who thought that.
“I accept that the police emphasised the words could lead to an arrest but the implication is a threat to free speech which surely should be fought.”
The Public Order Act dictates that it is an offence to display any sign which is threatening, abusive or insulting, and could cause distress.
What do you think? Should Mr Richards be allowed to display his poster?