The Blackadder and Mr Bean star attacked the “creeping culture of censoriousness” which has resulted in the arrest of a Christian preacher, a critic of Scientology and even a student making a joke, it was reported.
He criticised the “new intolerance” as he called for part of it the Public Order Act to be repealed, saying it was having a “chilling effect on free expression and free protest”.
Mr Atkinson said: “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.”
Police and prosecutors are accused of being over-zealous in their interpretation of Section 5 of the Act, which outlaws threatening, abusive and insulting words or behaviour, the Daily Mail reported.
What constitutes “insulting” is not clear. It has resulted in a string of controversial arrests.
They include a 16-year-old boy being held for peacefully holding a placard reading “Scientology is a dangerous cult”, and gay rights campaigners from the group Outrage! detained when they protested against Islamic fundamentalist group Hizb ut-Tahrir over its stance on gays, Jews and women.
Mr Atkinson said he hoped the repeal of Section 5 would pave the way for a move to “rewind the culture of censoriousness” and take on the “outrage industry – self-appointed arbiters of the public good encouraging outrage to which the police feel under terrible pressure to react”.
Speaking at the Westminster launch of the campaign, he added: “The law should not be aiding and abetting the new intolerance.”
He was joined by Lord Dear, former chief constable of West Midlands Police, and former shadow home secretary David Davis.
Mr Davis said: “The simple truth is that in a free society, there is no right not to be offended. For centuries, freedom of speech has been a vital part of British life, and repealing this law will reinstate that right.”
The campaign has united an unlikely coalition of support including The Christian Institute and The National Secular Society as well as Big Brother Watch, The Freedom Association and The Peter Tatchell Foundation.
The fact is, we’re so afraid of hurting someone’s precious feels that we won’t speak the truth and that’s far more dangerous than people being offended.