Following on the news about the Belfast City Council’s plan to limit open-air preaching, concerned Christians have prepared a briefing on the subject.
Briefing Note: Belfast City Council
City Centre Speech Permits – October 2021
The proposal involves two key issues within city centre.
1. Permits for amplification.
2. Permits for stalls, literature, and other display materials.
Some have felt this necessary because of some complaints involving Christian and LGBT activists, pro-life groups, and buskers.
This briefing note lays out several reasons why permits are not the correct way to handle this problem. It also demonstrates some further problems speech permits will create.
Free speech as a principle
The British tradition, especially, after the Glorious Revolution has valued freedom of conscience, civil and religious liberty. This is enshrined in law and practice.
You do have a right not to be threatened by speech. However, you do not have a right to be comfortable or not offended by speech. If offence was an offence – no one would be able to speak freely. The right to offend is not just a moral right but a legal one.
The very use of the word “permit” suggests that the Council has the authority to determine free expression in the public square. No public body has the moral authority to deny rights to citizens or organisations and there is no doubt this will be tried in court.