Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Christian Voice Threatens to Take Action Against Producers of Jerry Springer - The Opera

Once again a group of religious extremists are trying to destroy the very fabric of this society. Once again a group of extremists are attempting to clamp down on free speech. Once again, the perpetrators are not Muslims, Sikhs or Jews, no they are fundamentalist Christians.

The Guardian reports today that Christian Voice are attempting to prosecute the producer and broadcaster of Jerry Springer - The Opera. According to the report:

Christian Voice wants to bring a case against Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, and Jonathan Thoday, producer of the award-winning musical, for blasphemous libel, but was refused permission by City of Westminster magistrates court. The group is hoping to launch what would be only the third prosecution in more than 80 years for an offence which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The usual suspects have lined up against the BBC, including The Sun. Their coverage of the prosecution was entirely one-sided, befitting of its intention to befriend any group willing to take action against the BBC. The Sun writes:

The public reaction to Jerry Springer - The Opera was contrasted to that of the Sikh community to the play Behzti (Dishonour) that depicted murder and rape in a Sikh temple by Mr Gledhill.

He said that the Birmingham theatre where Behzti was staged was attacked and the drama was abandoned after the first performance “and it has never seen the light of day since”.

Mr Geldhill added that no one would need to be reminded of the consequences when a Danish paper published caricatures of the prophet Mohammed, causing demonstrations across the world and loss of life.

It went without saying that Mr Thoday would never have dreamed of producing a satire on the prophet Mohammed and the religion of Islam - “nor would any theatre have produced it”, he said.

In contrast “neither Mr Thoday nor Mr Thompson felt the least inhibition in ridiculing God, Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the sacrament of the Eucharist and Christian belief,” Mr Gledhill said.

He added that through Jerry Springer - The Opera they had treated the Christian faith “with contempt, reviling it by parodying Christian beliefs scurrilously and in the most ludicrous manner”.

As I said, no doubt about which side they are on.

There are, perhaps unsurprisingly, several holes in the argument of both The Sun and Christian Voice. Firstly, reference is made to the Sikh play 'Behzti' and the reaction that received from the Sikh community. Although the play was halted, what was rarely reported was that the protesters were only calling for a slight change in the play. As Gurdial Singh Atwal, a representative for the Council of Sikh Gurdwaras, said at the time:

"It has caused a great hurt, and shows a lack of respect. The Sikh community had a small demand: rather than setting it in a gurdwara, set it in a community centre."

The setting was the issue, not the content. Perhaps, in these image conscious times, image is more important than content. Myself, I always think that the content takes precedence. This was, if my memory serves me correctly, not the issue with Jerry Springer. In that case, it was the overall content of the show that was of issue, not the fact that it was set on the Jerry Springer Show. There is quite an obvious distinction between the two which seems faintly embarrassing to point out, nevertheless, it is a point that is often overlooked.

The other hole in the argument is with reference to the Muslim community. The argument claims that this wouldn't have been produced if it offended Muslim sensibilities. Well, it did offend Muslim sensibilities. Jesus is one of the prophets revered in the Islamic faith. Although he is not held in as a high regard as the Prophet Muhammad, he is revered as one of the messengers of God. Islam also reveres the Virgin Mary who also appears in the satirical play. Therefore, the play would have offended Muslims as well, and yet it was still broadcast. This makes a mockery of the whole argument that a play offensive to Muslims would not get any airtime. Jerry Springer - The Opera was offensive to Muslims and was aired on the BBC.

The bottom line is as The Guardian reports. Christians are able to take action through the UK's archaic blasphemy laws and have resorted to utilising this provision on several occasions in the last thirty years. No other religious group is afforded a legislative right to challenge our basic rights to free speech. That Christians are able to use such laws to crack down on free speech is an utter disgrace. It is time that these archaic laws were taken off the statute book and consigned to the dustbin forever.