Green gets his day in court
AT LAST, it may go to court. The preposterous and risible law of blasphemy could be put to the test – and taken out of the reckoning entirely.
Stephen Green, the man who brought us the laughable Christian Voice – although most communications issuing from this obscure little organisation seem to emanate from Green himself – wants to sue the producers of the excellent Jerry Springer: The Opera. You’ll remember that it caused a stink among some Christians when BBC2 showed it in 2005, although it had already been doing a stage run for some months.
The BBC received thousands of complaints, although there have been accusations that this was orchestrated. It did, to its credit, show the show, and, thanks to the Christians’ whining, far more people probably saw it than might have been the case.
This week, Stephen Green will seek the right to bring a private prosecution for the common-law offence of blasphemous libel. This was last used in the infamous trial of Gay News in 1977, in a prosecution brought by the then dragon-in-chief of the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, Mary Whitehouse. (It’s now called Mediawatch-UK, and its head is John Beyer.)
There’s an excellent series of articles – well, this contributor would say that, since one of them was by his good self – online, which look at the background to that case with eyewitness accounts of the “commission” of the “crime” as well as the court case itself. Other writers look at things from various angles, and it will give you a good backgrounder for Tuesday’s hearing. Mediawatch-UK’s John Beyer, surprisingly, was one of the contributors to that special set of feature articles, having (give the man his due) accepted an invitation to contribute.
The articles appeared in the now-folded Gay & Lesbian Humanist, which was the mouthpiece of, though not published by, the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association, which formed largely as a result of that trial.
But back to SpringerÂ .Â .Â .
There’s also a good piece in The Times, too, Â anticipating the hearing, in which it says,
[A]ttempts to scrapÂ [theÂ blasphemy law]Â have foundered. David Blunkett, when Home Secretary, floated the abolition of blasphemy and blasphemous libel in 2004 as part of a package of measures to include the offence of incitement to religious hatred. The idea of the repeal was to answer critics, such as Rowan Atkinson, the comedian, who argued that the new incitement law would stifle criticism of religion, cartoonists’ lampoons or jokes about vicars and priests.
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said: “No person of faith should doubt the importance of free speech to freedom of religionÂ – we must remember that even Jesus was prosecuted for blasphemy. This law has quite rightly been a dead letter for many years and is ripe for repeal, not a mischievous private prosecution.”
The proposal was welcomed at the time by the National Secular Society, which said that it had been fighting the blasphemy law for more than 100 years. But at the same time, it expressed concern that the new incitement laws may be creating a new “all religions” blasphemy law.
The National Secular Society’s executive director Keith Porteus Wood said more recently, “We welcome this case and hope that Mr Green is successful in getting the prosecution. We think that he will fail, and it will provide the final nail in the coffin of a law that the National Secular Society has been trying to get rid of for 130 years.”
On his own web page on the issue,Â Green has this to say of Springer: “It was more disgusting, more blasphemous, more crass and more offensive than I could ever have imagined. I was, and still am, angry that such a gratuitously nasty, hateful, spiteful and blasphemous piece of work is being performed in our land, let alone that it was national television.”
That’s the mind of the man who is taking on reason and secularism. May the better opponent win.