Cross burningYes, blasphemy is illegal in the United Kingdom, under common law formed in the 17th century. Yet Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees the right to free speech, whether sacred, profane, secular, or whatever. Is anybody still in any doubt that the UK needs a complete legal overhaul? Which law should a court follow? And in the case that the European law didn’t exist, which laws should a court just ignore on the basis that it’s outdated and ridiculous? The UK could form a bill of rights, for a start, then maybe shit like this wouldn’t happen.

The BBC reports today that a Christian group is suing the BBC for blasphemy under this ancient law, for screening Jerry Springer – The Opera. Stephen Graham commented about this on Grumpy Young Man when the show aired in January 2005, saying:

“Jesus the fetishist. Jesus the “little bit gay”. Jesus the “having his bollocks fondled by Eve.” It doesn’t take a genius to understand why some (most?) Christians might be offended and annoyed at such a (certainly blasphemous) portrayal of Christ. That the portrayal was merely part of a dream sequence is hardly any rebuttal of that charge. So angry were they that Christian protesters stood outside BBC offices burning their TV licences. Unfortunately some people chose to totally ignore the complaints and dismiss those who were making them as anti-freedom of speech reactionaries. I certainly disagree with the protesters about the notion of “bad language,” and with the idea that a programme containing blasphemous or any other content that religious or secular people find offensive should be banned.”

For the record, Stephen changed the channel after 30 minutes. He “wasn’t offended by the language. [He] was bored.” While he makes a good point that Christians may be offended without necessarily being “anti-freedom of speech reactionaries”, it appears that at least some of them are “anti-freedom of speech reactionaries”, including the group Christian Voice who are now taking their appeal to a higher court.

Christian Voice is an entertaining group. Among their various causes: opposing casinos, ‘explaining’ Islam and blocking the building of a mosque in London, and collecting the pro-gay statements of various UK police departments. In particular, I enjoyed reading their responses to the Dr. Laura questions. The Dr. Laura questions were written to highlight the fallacy of citing parts of the Old Testament in service of the argument that homosexuality is wrong by pointing out that many other parts of OT law are not observed today, and for good reason. The questions are facetious! Yet Christian Voice responds to each of them in turn, with hilarious results:

Q. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord (Leviticus 1:9). The problem is my neighbours. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

A. No. You need a Israelite priest to offer the sacrifice for you in the Temple in Jerusalem; you can’t just do it yourself in your back garden.

Great, isn’t it? Another?

Q. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of uncleanliness (Leviticus 15:19-24). How do I tell? I have tried asking but most women take offence.

A. This is to do with purity of worship in the Temple . Not just sexual intercourse (we would all be agreed on that) but even touching a menstruating woman made the one who touched her unclean. …. If the matter you raise still troubles you, you should avoid all contact with women other than your own wife. And if you don’t know when she is in what you describe as her period of uncleanliness, then heaven help you.

These are the real attempts of Christian Voice to answer these facetious questions! Too good. Let’s keep going.

Q. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may buy slaves from the nations that are around us. A friend of mine claims that this applies to the French but not to the Scots. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Scottish people?

A. It doesn’t actually say slaves, it says ‘bondmen and bondmaids’. [….more….]


Q. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as it suggests in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

A. It actually says ‘maidservant’ not slave. [……more…..]

Well, just as long as we make that distinction…. it appears that Christian Voice are okay with slavery as long as you call it bond and maidservantry.

Q. A friend of mine feels that though eating shellfish is an abomination (Leviticus 11:10) it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

A. They are different words in Hebrew, so your friend is right. […..more…..]

I haven’t been this entertained reading a Christian website since I read Fred Phelps’ website (who also quotes from Leviticus to make points about the morals of modern society). Finally:

Q. My friend tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone him as commanded in Leviticus 24:10-16?

A. Yes, because it is all a matter of due process. You are a bit for taking the law into your own hands, aren’t you? Does your friend actually curse the Name of God like the man in Leviticus did? Anyway, next you must find a judge and jury who will convict him. Unless his blasphemy really is scurrilous, abusive or offensive to God, Jesus Christ or the Bible, and tends to vilify the Christian religion, you are unlikely to see a conviction in our land today…

…though Christian Voice would be delighted if they could change that! And with this we get back to the point: the charge of blasphemy, as committed by the BBC when they screened Jerry Springer – The Opera, is asserted in the Old Testament to be an offence punishable by stoning, and Christian Voice agrees! Is this why they’re pursuing the blasphemy charge against the Beeb, because they’d like to stone to death the Director General?

For anyone who hasn’t gotten it yet: this bizarre reasoning highlights gloriously the glittering idiocy present in much of application of the underlying theology of organised religion. Unfortunately, I don’t see the Evangelical Alliance or other evangelicals publicly distancing themselves from this kind of extremism as much as I’d like, and my experience is that average evangelical Christians are persuaded every day of the virtues of infringing on the free actions of their fellow citizens in the name of their faith, no matter how shaky the theology.  This point is reinforced on a monthly basis in some of the churches I’ve seen: I’ve told the story before about the time I was at a church meeting in which I refused to stand and pray that the sex shops would be denied their licences to do business in the city; to this day some of my Christian friends have no idea why that’s such an appalling thing to want.

Allow me to provide my take on what the founder of the Christian faith said about the efforts of religious people to punish others for living their lives freely:

“Let he who wishes to be [infringed upon himself] throw the first stone.”