There is a worrying context to the arrest of a preacher for alleged ‘hate speech’ in Larne

News Letter editorial of Saturday August 14 2021:

By Editorial
Saturday, 14th August 2021, 11:50 am
Updated Saturday, 14th August 2021, 11:53 am
News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

It is unclear exactly what happened in Larne this week when Ryan Williamson was arrested.

But it is known that Ryan Williamson, from Loughbrickland, was preaching when he was approached and detained. He was soon released.

Police said that they had been called for a complaint of ‘hate speech’ and of anti-social behaviour.

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Mr Williamson says the PSNI are particularly vigilant now over the airing of conservative views on LGBT issues.

There is a troubling background to this episode. The law has expanded to clamp down on ideas that thin-skinned people increasingly find offensive.

Incidents that are considered to be ‘hate’ motivated, but which are not in fact criminal, are attracting police attention. And even when it comes to ‘hate crime’ the concept is problematic — in England, for example, the police and Crown Prosecution deem a crime a hate offence if the victim believes it was motivated by prejudice. This places a absurd weight on perceptions, which might be mistaken.

The risks to free speech were made vivid in 2015 when Pastor James McConnell was put in a Belfast dock for an anti Islamic sermon. The late Martin McGuinness had denounced the pastor’s words, a darkly comic aspect to the saga given that the IRA was never jailed for real hate crime.

There should be an presumption of freedom to interpret religions in ways that others might find upsetting, and to relay to others that interpretation.

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