You have the right to remain silent

Free speech? Wozzat?

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…Officers confiscated a placard with the word “cult” on it from the youth, who is under 18, and a case file has been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Uh – right. Because that’s obviously a crime. Saying Scientology is a cult is self-evidently a crime. Uh…what? In what universe?

Demonstrators from the anti-Scientology group, Anonymous, who were outside the church’s £23m headquarters near St Paul’s cathedral, were banned by police from describing Scientology as a cult by police because it was “abusive and insulting”…A policewoman later 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.

Which covers, if the police so choose, pretty much all words. Except maybe ‘nice’ – maybe the sign would have been permitted if it had said ‘Scientology is nice.’ Or maybe not, in case it was sarcastic.

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.

Justice me no justices, Teenager; public order requires that things not be said on signs no matter how many justices have said them beforehand. Public order is a very fragile thing. All of London could be reduced to screaming anarchy and bloody warfare in a heartbeat if a sign were allowed to call Scientology a cult – so hand it over, and here’s your summons.

Liberty director, Shami Chakrabarti, said: “This barmy prosecution makes a mockery of Britain’s free speech traditions. “After criminalising the use of the word ‘cult’, perhaps the next step is to ban the words ‘war’ and ‘tax’ from peaceful demonstrations?”

Might as well. Best not to risk it.

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