Authorities in Rugeley, Staffordshire, England, detained sandwich shop owner Neil Phillips for eight hours, searched his computer, fingerprinted him and swabbed him for DNA after a local elected official complained that Phillips had engaged in online jokes and comments on Facebook, including jokes about Nelson Mandela. [Birmingham Mail, The Star] Afterward, Phillips complained that the constabulary had “over-reacted massively”: “There was no hatred. What happened to freedom of speech?” Charles Cooke explains at NRO:
Well, the Public Order Act of 1986 happened to freedom of speech – in particular, Section 5, which makes it a crime in England for anyone ”with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress” to
(a) [use] threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) [display] any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.
In other words, Section 5 allows anybody to have anybody else investigated for speaking. And they have. The arrests have run the gamut: from Muslims criticizing atheists to atheists criticizing Muslims….
Is it still legal for Britons to laugh at this Mark Steyn column?