‘GOD hates Catholics.” That was the legend announced across the three-feet by three-feet placard David Orr brandished on a lonely picket on a cold Sunday morning in February. For ecumenical balance – and, presumably, ease of inter-denominational protest – the back of Orr’s board read “God hates the Kirk”.

But it was the first slogan which met parishioners at St Mirin’s Cathedral in Paisley as they filtered in to mass on the morning of February 26 last year. As you might imagine, Orr’s banner caused considerable disquiet in the local community, prompting a number of phone calls to the police. Constables appeared, confronted him, and Orr was lifted for a public order offence.

Orr argued he was engaged in a peaceful protest, with no subtext of intimidation. But prosecutors disagreed, charging him with abusive behaviour aggravated by religious prejudice. The Sheriff Appeal Court upheld his conviction and sentence last week.

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Appeal sheriffs found his behaviour was “likely to cause a reasonable person fear and alarm”. Whether or not Orr had intended to put the fear of God up the Catholic congregation of St Mirin’s – judges held he’d been criminally reckless about the impact of his behaviour. “To the extent that the appellant may have had a genuine message which he wished to put across,” they said, “the placard in no way, shape or form conveyed that message.”

Orr will now have to cough up half a Dankula – which is to say, a £400 fine. In contrast with the summer’s other free speech martyrs – would-be trial wrecker Tommy Robinson and Youtuber Mark Meehan – Orr is an unknown soldier. He isn’t a social media sensation.

His conviction attracted no crowdfunding campaign, generated no headlines and no real media comment. But in its own eccentric way, his case is a microcosm of one of this summer’s continuing themes. What are the appropriate frontiers for free expression? When does public protest become something more sinister? When should the law step in?

The theme took its latest turn in Glasgow yesterday. The seemingly interminable Orange walking season continues unabated. The Uruk Hai in crimplene wanted to go belting up London Road this Saturday. With what the Catholic Archdioceses of Glasgow rightly characterised as “gross insensitivity,” the Orange Order insisted on sending its adherents rat-a-tat-tatting past St Alphonsus’s Church. You may recognise the location. This was where local cleric – Canon Tom White – was abused in nakedly sectarian terms earlier this summer, as the Order’s drums reported and their flutes whistled by.

Yesterday, Glasgow City Council stepped in to order the Lodge to find another street in the city to snarl up. The Archdiocese welcomed this development, saying they were “grateful to the council for taking note of concerns and acting decisively to lift a cloud of anxiety which was affecting parishioners and local residents”.

But the council should never have been put in this position. The Archdiocese’s scepticism about the bone fides of the Orange Order in picking out the route for their protestant mardi gras seems eminently feel founded. You can forgive Canon White for thinking: of all the streets, in all of Glasgow, you just had to walk into mine, didn’t you?

It’s indefensible. But there’s a wider point worth underscoring here. Insisting on a different route – one that doesn’t batter in the ceilings of chapels when Catholics are saying Mass – isn’t silencing anyone. Only in its crudest formulation is free expression an absolute right to say whatever you like, whenever you like, to whomever you like.

I have considerable sympathy with the Archdiocese’s position. But I find myself struck by the obvious contrast between the church’s – absolutely reasonable – demand not to be harassed outside their own place of worship, while simultaneously insisting on the right of its adherents to haunt hospitals in the name of precisely the same, crude version of free expression which disgruntled Orange marchers are now spitting at the local authority.

A few weeks ago Anthony Horan – director of the Scottish Catholic Parliamentary Office – laid into Glasgow City Council for its proposals to introduce an exclusion zone around the Queen Elizabeth University Teaching hospital.

Like the order for Saturday’s Orange march to be diverted, this order would recognise the rights of pro-life protestors to prosecute their point of view, while restricting the ambit of their activities in an eminently reasonable way. So with the shoe on the other foot, how did Scotland’s anti-abortion lobby respond? The answer?

“We should be deeply troubled by this latest proposal which seeks to remove and silence those who speak up for women and their unborn babies,” Hollaran said. A spokeswoman for Society for Protection of Unborn Children weighed in behind him, arguing “it is appalling that Glasgow City Council would support such an infringement on people’s freedom of speech”.

Let’s go back to first principles. The exclusion zone would not prevent those who believe that life begins at conception from expressing their views.

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All it would do is erect a cordon sanitaire around the hospital, to prevent women from being confronted with signs denouncing their life choices as they make their way to the hospital. Or, to look at it another way, to prevent precisely the kind of picketing that David Orr was lifted for at St Mirin’s Cathedral.

Is diverting Orangemen away from the Tabervnacle a sinister infringement of their rights to free expression? Are the fifes and drums of the Orange Order being “silenced” by preventing them from picking out a route which ensures that the rooves of as many chapels as possible rattle to the bang of their drums?

I don’t know about you, but I can still pick out the tunes pretty clearly, just as I can hear the voices of critics of abortion on the national media. If this is silencing, it is a noisy silence. Leading religious figures – who can readily and rightly point up the mote in their brother’s eye – seem to be struggling to see the beam in their own. But it is just another one of those irregular verbs, isn’t it?

I engage in peaceful protest, you are guilty of intimidation, and he has a conviction under section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act.

Andrew is chairing an event in the Scottish Parliament on September 11 on hate speech. Search Eventbrite for ‘Where to Draw the Line: Hate Speech, Free Expression & Censorship’.