In a case that has many Britons in shock, John Richards is claiming that when police became aware of the sign hanging in a window of his home in Lincolnshire County in East England, they told him he could be arrested if it drew any complaints. The sign Richards placed for passersby to see reads: "Religions are fairy stories for adults."
"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," Richards told local publication the Boston Standard last week.
"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," the retiree said.
At issue is the country's Public Order Act of 1986. Richards was reportedly told that he could be in violation of Section 5 of the Act, which prohibits "harassment, alarm or distress" of other persons, due to the sign.
The part particular to Richards says that a person is guilty of an offense and could be arrested without a warrant if he "displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person" who would find the display distressing.
Okay, so now I know this gentleman thinks my beliefs are a fairytale.
Now that I know that, I can engage this man in a discussion.
Or, I can write a blogpost about why he is wrong.
Or, I can warn others about his erroneous beliefs.
There are all kinds of advantages to free speech. If this man had not put up the sign, I would have never known he's an atheist.
My question: what is the religious background of the person who made the first complaint?
In light of the storm of criticism it has received, Lincolnshire Police issued a statement insisting Richards was never threatened with arrest. The statement noted that an arrest would only be made if a person found in violation of the law refused to remove the threatening, abusive or insulting sign.
"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 offense had been committed under the Act," read the statement republished by the Boston Standard.