This may come as a surprise to twits on this side of the pond who think of British people as a foul-mouthed, rabble-rousing, constantly cursing lot, but until now it was illegal to use "insulting" language in Britain. The British government announced it would remove the word "insulting" from a portion of their Public Order Act that led to some pretty ridiculous arrests. One student was arrested for asking a police officer if he knew his horse was "gay" while children around. Another student was arrested for saying "woof" to a dog. Thankfully, somewhere in the court system, both charges were thrown out. Britain's House of Lords overwhelmingly voted in favor of changing the law in December.
Section 5 of Britain's Public Order act makes it illegal to use "threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour [...] within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby."
Comedian Rowan Atkinson, known to most as Mr. Bean, was one of the leading supporters of changing the law. He argued it was being misinterpreted to censor, instead of protecting anyone from some kind of hate crime as intended:
"The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, can be interpreted as insult."
The only question we have is how Ricky Gervais managed to last so long without being arrested.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.