The BBC reports that Stephen Green has lost the battle to prosecute the director general and the producers of Jerry Springer: the Opera for blasphemy.
This is not such good news as it may first appear. A prosecution would have exonerated all those involved with JS:TO, and effectively killed the archaic and inequitable blasphemy law. As it stands, the two judges concluded that the play could not be considered blasphemous “in context”, and
as a whole was not and could not reasonably be regarded as aimed at, or an attack on, Christianity or what Christians held sacred.
This leaves open the possibility that if some other work could be considered as being – in context – an attack on “Christianity or what Christians held sacred”, then its creators might still be prosecuted under this stupid law.
It is bad news for Stephen Green – and that is cause for a minor celebration – but here at MWW we are keeping our champagne bottles on ice for now.
UPDATE: (6 Dec) The decision will be appealed. In the latest CV press release, Stephen Green makes a reasonable point:
The law as the Court has interpreted it now gives carte blanche to broadcasters and theatre companies to blaspheme, while the press still may not. That cannot be logical, let alone right.
Do not be fooled by this brief flash of lucidity. Green had earlier told The Guardian,
I’m really sympathetic to the freedom of speech argument. But blasphemy is not a matter of free speech, it’s people going out of their way to offend almighty God.
The fact that some people get their kicks out of insulting Jesus Christ does not mean the rest of us or the law should put up with this.
The Freethinker reports that Keith Porteus Wood of the National Secular Society is disappointed at the verdict:
We had hoped that Mr Green would have been given permission to bring this case because we strongly suspect that the courts would have done what parliament seems unwilling to do – declare the blasphemy law a dead duck once and for all.
The British Humanist Association is more upbeat:
We welcome the sensible decision by the High Court not to allow this case to go forward. The blasphemy laws in the UK – which protect Christian beliefs – are clearly contrary to the principle of free speech and probably contrary to human rights laws which protect freedom of expression, and that must include the right to criticise beliefs, religious or otherwise. The blasphemy laws are anomalies in the context of our increasingly diverse and increasingly non-religious society. The UK ’s law seeks to protect people and their rights to their beliefs, but not to protect the beliefs themselves.
In a free society we must be allowed to criticise religious doctrines and practices, even if that offends some people. Hopefully today’s ruling will bring back to public debate the need to abolish the outdated blasphemy laws that clearly have no place in Britain today.