Judgement day, but not on Jerry

By Simon Barrow
November 20, 2007

Today Stephen Green of Christian Voice, which looks very much like one man and a bandwagon, is appealing against the rejection of his attempted private prosecution of the BBC for blasphemy.

The cause celebre is 'Jerry Springer - The Opera' and its appearance on BBC2 some time ago. Most people have probably forgotten about the show, which I though was much better when it was an alternative theatre production. Then it got West End-ised. The glossed TV version would have attracted virtually no viewers if it wasn't for the anti-campaigners, ironically. Thanks to them, it hit pay-dirt.

At the time Ekklesia spoke out against censorship and cultural illiteracy, suggesting that the ribbald production actually raised some important issues about religion and life, which Christian complainants might have spent useful time contemplating - instead of fretting about a bit of bad language.

Mark Vernon has written a piece on Guardian Comment is Free today, which puts the latest antics in the context of the archaic blasphemy law, which Ekklesia has also argued against.

He observes: Christian Voice, is making an application in the high court in London. It wants the right to prosecute the BBC for blasphemy. Christian Voice has already been refused permission to do so by a magistrates' court. More money and more time is being wasted. Worse still for most believers, more messages are being broadcast that Christianity is intolerant and reactionary.

For this reason, if no other, the church should be at the vanguard of calls to repeal the blasphemy laws. They allow numerically tiny and entirely unrepresentative groups to make ugly headlines. As the recently-retired bishop of Worcester, the Right Reverend Peter Selby, said of the Gay News case back in 1997: "It was hard to believe that there was ever a case for this investigation, let alone for a prosecution. This whole event comes across as yet another example of the continuous harassment of lesbian and gay people."

There are good theological reasons for erasing blasphemy as a criminal charge, too. The law belongs to a period when there was no distinction between acting against the Church of England and acting against the state. You couldn't find a bishop, even one keen to hold on to his seat in the House of Lords, who believes that today.

And then there is God, or not. What use can a human blasphemy charge against the omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent creator of the universe possibly serve? If God is, could divinity be anything like a petty-minded individual who is offended by a, frankly, second-rate poem or, for that matter, even a first-class work of art?

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