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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Protect free speech. Reform Section 5

Who should decide whether words, posters or ideas are insulting? Individuals? The police? A judge? Should it ever be a criminal matter? It might surprise you to know that under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, the police and the courts can decide if you or someone else might feel insulted.

Do we really need the police and the courts to deal with insults? Should we not just accept that the risk of insult is a fair price to pay for living in a society which values free speech? We think so, and here's why.

"Insulting words or behaviour" are outlawed by Section 5, and this is having a chilling effect on free speech right across our country, in a wide range of communities. The law rightly protects us against unjust discrimination, incitement and violence. It should not be used to protect us from having our feelings hurt. It's time to reform Section 5.

The Home Office is currently considering its response to a consultation period which saw many people make the case for the removal of the "insulting words or behaviour" clause of Section 5.

That's why we're working alongside the Christian Institute, The Peter Tatchell Foundation and many others on a campaign to reform Section 5 of the Public Order Act to remove the word 'insulting'. We believe the removal of 'insulting' would afford greater protection to freedom of expression – for both the religious and non-religious.

The law rightly protects the public against unjust discrimination, incitement and violence – but that the law does not need to protect us from having our feelings hurt.

Find out more at the Reform Section 5 Campaign website

Find out more