‘Fairy tale’ sign may be offensive

‘Fairy tale’ sign may be offensive

Pensioner gets a police warning

THE PLODS in Boston, Lincolnshire, aren’t looking too clever today following news that they warned a local pensioner that an anti-religious sign he placed in a window of his home could lead to his arrest if someone took offence at it.

John Richards’ sign simply states an obvious truth:

Religions are fairy stories for adults.

Local police, according to this report, descended on Richards, and told him if he persists on displaying the sign at his Vauxhall Road home, it could breach the Public Order Act by distressing passers-by.

Following the Boston Standard’s initial report this morning, Lincolnshire police issued a statement to clarify their position. Officers say that they have not told John Richards he is actually committing an offence for displaying the poster but said he could face arrest if he does cause offence and refuses to take the poster down if ordered to do so.

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.

Among the first to express support for Richards was the National Secular Society, which plans to use 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.

NSS President Terry Sanderson is quoted as saying:

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.

He hasn’t come a cropper with the police yet but if he does we would give him some support.

Richards said:

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 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.

Hat tip: Adam Tjaavk and Angela K


49 responses to “‘Fairy tale’ sign may be offensive”

  1. 5ec4um says:

    So, what if I wear a tee shirt with some subtle anti-religious statement printed on it? Am I up for arrest if someone chooses to take offence?

    This is ridiculous. I find it offensive to read that Bishops are given privilege to sit in the House of Lords. Does that mean I can complain and get them evicted?

    And then there are those leaflets I get through my door from local church groups. They are truly offensive.

  2. Daz says:

    Y’know, if it stopped at the “with the intent to provoke violence” part, or even added “could be justifiably considered to be likely to cause violence,” I’d have no issues with it whatsoever.

    But if we must go down this road, how about we start warning arch-bishops that they could be arrested for homophobic speech? Oh sorry, they’re religious views, so they don’t count.

    Bloody lunacy.

  3. Matt Westwood says:

    If I were threatened by the pigs like that I would defy them. “GO ON THEN! ARREST ME!”

    Come to think of it, is “fairy” the word being objected to? It is, after all, a disparaging term for a you-know-what.

  4. John Blackburn says:

    I am offended by the constantly changing evangelical signs outside my local church, I wonder if the police have been in to see the vicar in case I take it up with them?
    Actually I’m not offended at all. The signs are always a a good laugh and remind me why I loathe the whole business.

  5. AgentCormac says:

    How wonderful to see someone of John’s generation actually sticking two fingers up to religion! Sincerely. It’s amazing. And good on him!

    If, however, the boot was on the other foot, no doubt Andrea Minichielo Williams and the CLC would be given column inches galore in the The Hate Mail and The Torygraph to protest that christianity (that backbone of British morality and decency) was, yet again, being horribly victimised. No doubt Williams et al would actually like to follow the Indonesian example whereby Alexander Aan was sentenced on Thursday to two and a half years in prison for having the temerity to deny the existence of God on his Facebook page.

  6. David Anderson says:

    Excuse me officer, but every time that (insert name of person or institution of your choice) opens their mouth I find it threatening, abusive, insulting and causes me distress. Could you arrest them please.

    John Blackburn;

    I love those signs too. Do you remember years ago when some church in Liverpool had a sign that said, “Jesus saves” and some wag added “but Keegan scores on the rebound”?

  7. Broga says:

    John Richards is being persecuted, yes persecuted, for stating a fact. What about the offence caused to sensitive, or even insensitive, people who cannot avoid lurid depictions of the bleeding, emaciated and tortured figure of Jesus outside many Churches – particularly Roman Catholic. As Mr Richards has stated a fact he has to be threatened and he has to be shut up by threats for the usual reason that his views cannot be contradicted by facts. Free speech is censored to allow superstition to thrive uncontested.

    Someone in the police or the police Authority must be held to account for this. Mr Richards is due a written apology for this outrage.

  8. Matt Westwood says:

    @John Blackburn: Wear a big black bushy false beard, paint your face brown and put a stupid hat on, *then* complain about the xtian posters. They’ll be ripped down before you can say Allahu Akbar.

  9. Lesebyst says:

    Please tell me that’s a typo and you’re talking about the US Boston not the UK one. Wonder how they’d react to a ‘Jesus is a c*nt’ Cradle of Filth t-shirt?

  10. RB says:

    Stories like this make me hang my head in despair.

  11. Robster says:

    I recon the plastic “dead bloke on a stick” figures the christians plaster all over their venues and outside their halls of delusion are much more offensive than a fact on a sheet displayed by this bloke. The cross thingy thay all seem to love is a torture device. How offensive is that?

  12. john.c says:

    The key wording is that ” a reasonable person “might take offence…etc…I doubt that anyone offended by such a sign could realy be considered as reasonable.

  13. jay says:

    “The key wording is that ” a reasonable person “might take offence…etc…I doubt that anyone offended by such a sign could realy be considered as reasonable.”

    The act also reads “or find the content insulting”. Insulting speech is essentially prohibited under this rule.

    Unfortunately as we try to dismantle such rules, there are many in (at least the US) progressives who are pushing to get essentially the same (or more restrictive) language added to ‘anti bullying’ laws.

  14. Matt Westwood says:

    To anyone who feels personally insulted by anything I say, then this to you: Fuck off, shithead.

  15. Georgina says:

    also, could anyone who gives money to shamans be considered fully reasonable?

    It is a shame that we atheists are such reasonable people.
    As a feminist, I find female submission uniforms offensive, that’s nuns and muslimas.
    Does it worry them that I – and all for which the emancipation movement stands – are deeply offended by this display of subservience?

  16. the Woggler says:

    Mr Richards is so irresponsible. Doesn’t he realise displaying such a sign could cause people to explode, little babies to melt and the Earth to go spinning off Its axis? He’s a danger to mankind.

  17. Angela_K says:

    Well done Mr Richards, do not be cowed. I may have posted on here a couple of year ago that I wear a badge on my motorcycle jacket that states: “Religious belief is a mental illness” I haven’t been arrested yet but if I am, look forward to my day in court.

    Around “Easter” a small town near me puts up old bits of telegraph pole in cruciform shape and signs declaring some bloke died for me. I’ve been complaining to the County Council for years about the offensive nature of this, but without success.

  18. Jim Gourlay says:

    As a Bible-believing, ex-atheist, I am extremely offended that the police are harassing a man who is absolutely entitled to express his opinion that religion is a fairy tale.

    The Lincs plods ‘assurances’ are worthless – there is always some thin-skinned person around looking to be offended (religious or secular). Free speech will sometimes offend – get over it!

  19. Broga says:

    I just wonder what led to Mr Richards’ warning. I’ve known some cops who are as atheist as I am. I also know others who couldn’t give a toss one way or the other. Was some hyper christian constable strolling past Mr Richards’ window and didn’t like what he read? Or did some censoring christian complain and the complaint was handled by a christian Inspector Knacker? The whole episode just seems so over the top.

    Whatever, the reason the action against Mr Richards is an outrageous attack on free speech and needs to be tackled. It is also so baseless. Are the stories of Adam and Eve, Jonah and the whale, the parting of the Red Sea, Noah and his Ark and so many other not fairy stories? Didn’t God show his arse to someone in one of the stories? And that’s before we get into the stories of excessive cruelty including slavery, child slaughter, child sacrifice and all the contradictions. All demanded by a God with an insatiable appetite for flattery.

  20. Tim Brierley says:

    The bit I find worrying is:
    ‘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.’

    The pigs can rarely be relied upon to make a reasoned judgement about anything.

    I hope the NSS’ campaign is a success. People rely too much on state agencies ‘protecting’ themselves from ‘being insulted’. These whingers should develop a backbone and enter into debate with people of opposing views.

    Of course atheists will argue robustly against the whacko beliefs of godbotheres of all creeds, but are often met with accusations of insulting their target audience. We can’t win whilst this remains on the Statute Book.

    @ Matt Westwood – I’m off to by my comedy black beard and accessories. Thanks for the tip!

  21. Pete H says:

    Stephen Fry’s thoughts on this sort of thing:

  22. Pete H says:

    David Anderson:

    A couple of years ago I saw a sign outside a local church that said:


    Which I think sums up prayer perfectly, but I expect not in the way the church had intended.

  23. barriejohn says:

    Almost every pronouncement of Christians is “offensive” to Muslims, and vice versa. Are they going to prevent CofE ministers from claiming that Jesus was the Son of God, or mullahs from saying that he was just another “prophet” – each statement being “blasphemous” and deeply insulting to the other party?

  24. Chad says:

    Would the legal position be changed if Mr Richards had prefaced his statement with “I believe that”? Surely such an innocuous statement of belief cannot be a source of offence when compared to, oh I don’t know, lets say “homosexuality is a sin”.

  25. Daz says:


    Gawd, yeah. Basically “let’s pretend we agree, even though we don’t, cos disagreement is offensive!”

    Incidentally, how the hell does Williams manage to look like he slept in an alley behind an off-licence, even when in full bishopy regalia?

  26. Broga says:

    Seems to me that by far the most generally acceptible and peaceful section of the community are the atheists. I worked with a christian fundie decades ago. He had ambitions to convert me, “to know Jesus, open your heart, allow the blood of the lamb” to transform my life. Same treatment for a quiet Roman Catholic who never mentioned his religion. The fundie told me that “you are more likely to be accepted by God because you do not know the truth. A Roman Catholic knows the truth but insists on perverting it. He will enter hell.” All pronounced with the utter certainty that he himself was headed for an infinity of life in heaven.

  27. Stonyground says:

    I take issue with the “for adults” part of the message. I don’t think that a person who believes in fairy tales can claim to be an adult. All those religious idiots fretting about their kids being corrupted by Harry Potter, seemingly unaware that, unlike themselves, children are able to distinguish between story books and real life. The children, who know that stories are just stories, eventually grow up. The religious people never do.

  28. Sabbag says:

    Wow, a free hand to make complaints about “The wages of sin are death” type signs which are plastered all over churches? Seriously, we should absolutely deluge our local constabularies making use of this priceless ammunition…..

  29. Matt Westwood says:

    The fundie told me that “you are more likely to be accepted by God because you do not know the truth. A Roman Catholic knows the truth but insists on perverting it. He will enter hell.”

    “Wow. You must really love your god.”

    “Well yes of course I do. But what makes you say so?”

    “Because you’re doing everything within your power to get someone to get you to be with him PDQ.”

  30. barriejohn says:

    Broga: Billy Graham always diplayed a huge banner at his “crusades” bearing the Bible verse “Jesus said: I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (Next bit: “No man cometh unto the Father but by me”!) He seems to have softened his stance nowadays, which has got him into real hot water with many evangelicals!

  31. Broga says:

    @barriejohn: Wow! This is heavy stuff from Billy Graham. Even non believers can make the grade. Now christians are praying for Billy Graham. Sooner or later they all seem to turn on each other which I suppose is inevitable. They are so insecure and fraught with doubt themselves that any who diverge from what they believe is going to be attacked. A divergent opinion might just mean that they themselves are wrong and that they do not want to consider.

    Every day, I thank God I am an atheist.

  32. Har Davids says:

    As far as I’m concerned no reasonable person could find the content insulting; if you’re so sure of your religion, why the whining? Maybe as many people as possible should display this text in their window. I live on the third floor in a narrow street in Holland, where not too many people give a damn about religion, but I’ll put this message on my Skype account.

  33. barriejohn says:

    That’s it, Broga. It’s like a house of cards, and they know that if just one of the supports is removed the whole thing will come crashing down around their ears, and that they dare not even contemplate.

  34. Paul Smith says:

    Maybe we should ban UK based Italians from waving their flags in our country on Sunday! So stupid.

    I’m all for freedom of speech but why is it so one sided. A man in my town centre breaches about Jesus all day long. If I did the same saying ‘I believe’ it rains because invisible pink elephants stamp on the clouds I’d be locked up.

  35. Daz says:

    If I did the same saying ‘I believe’ it rains because invisible pink elephants stamp on the clouds I’d be locked up.

    Quite rightly. They’re green elephants.

    [Cue several colour-based schisms leading to 2,000 years of holy war.]

  36. Gav R says:

    I’m a rabid atheist and I find the misleading promises on every Church signpost highly offensive. To whom should I approach to get these disgraceful lies and propaganda removed from my sight?

  37. Keith May says:

    Religion is way out of hand. its totally mixed with politics. Its wrong and takes advantage of peoples fears of death. Religion is big business. Its nuts in Canada ,but its really insane in America. If people put their faith in themselves and others it would be a better world. To be “born again” is total bull shit. I know a lot of Christians that are just plain bigots. Jesus truly is the Santa Clause for adults. I take pride in being a freethinker. Like George Carlin said,,,you tell people there is an invisible man in the sky and they don’t question it yet tell them its wet paint and they have to touch it. George W Bush, the “Christian” he is the killer.

  38. Lorna says:

    This guy is fantastic. If his sign was quoted in conversation he would not be arrest for verbal abuse, so why is the sign so wrong?

    An arrest is totally over the top, the costs required could go to much greater causes, repair a few pot holes, gn claiming cure cancer, Not arrest a harmless guy with an outright opinion.

    And Gaz, I agree, I find some of the things said about atheism highly insulting, they often imply that we are immoral, rude I even once read a sign claiming ‘freethinkers are satins slaves’. Now that’s just stupid. Come on!!

  39. Matt Westwood says:

    What, did it really say “satins” not “satans”? That would be worrying, because it would mean the presence of those to whom intelligence is a sign of the devil. As indeed it is of course: “Satan” = “Saturn” = “god of age and wisdom” (among other things).

  40. Graham Martin-Royle says:

    Apparently there were no complaints and this is a bit of a made up story. Mr Richards wrote to his local force posing a hypothetical question about the sign, the police responded to his letter and then he wrote to his local paper. All sounds a bit iffy to me.

  41. Matt Westwood says:

    @G M-R: This leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. Fun though it is to pick fights, there are better ways of doing it than this. It gives the rest of us shrill militant whining atheists a bad name.

    “Dear Police Force. What would you do if I firebombed a church during a Sunday service and consequently killed all 2 members of the congregation and the vicar?”

    “Dear Mr. Firebomber. I’m afraid we would have to arrest you and charge you with arson and murder.”

    “Dear Mr. Newspaper. I’ve been threatened to be arrested by the police for arson and murder just for being an atheist!”


  42. barriejohn says:

    Matt: That’s not a valid comparison at all. It seems clear that he has engineered this situation in order to point out the lunacy of the present law, which DOES state that he would be prosecuted if he displays his sign again, and, upon being notified that someone has taken offence, refuses to take it down again. I wouldn’t be surprised if the NSS knew beforehand what he was up to, and The Christian Institute are in agreement with him here. It is right that the idiocy of this law should be exposed. As one of the commenters says:

    It’s not the Police, or religious people, who are to blame here, but the law; Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 outlaws “insulting words or behaviour”. But three organisations – The National Secular Society, The Christian Institute, and the Peter Tatchell Foundation – have combined to support “Reform Section 5”, a movement campaigning to have the word “insulting” removed from this law. In parliament David Davies and other MPs, of all parties, are pressing the Home Secretary on the matter.
    I am a Christian, and I do not like my beliefs being rubbished. Neither would I like being insulted personally. But I want the law to uphold my right to say or print what I believe, and I want everyone to have that right, including, of course, those with whom I disagree. It’s called free speech, and it’s a vital part of our civilisation.

  43. remigius says:

    I totally agree barriejohn. Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of a civilised society. Those who say otherwise should be locked up!

  44. Daz says:

    Without freedom to disagree, we have no freedom of thought. Of course, some may disagree with this statement.

  45. John Roberts says:

    Are we not going about this in the wrong manner?

    should we not be using this law to get the religious loonys to take down all the crucifixes that are hanging around our cities most with the image of a dead man hanging on them?

    if we all took it upon ourselves to complain and ask them to let the hanging man down then, i am sure the christian fundies would do all the hard work for you in getting the law changed

  46. barriejohn says:

    John Roberts: They DO want the law changed, and rightly so. For once we are on the same side! Didn’t you read the article?