Christian seeks to sue BBC for blasphemy


LONDON - A Christian activist sought Tuesday to use blasphemy laws to prosecute a top BBC executive over the broadcaster's decision to screen "Jerry Springer-The Opera," a musical many Christians found offensive.

Stephen Green of Christian Voice said he was at High Court to try to overturn a decision by a district judge not to allow him to pursue his case against BBC director-general Mark Thompson and Jon Thoday, the musical's producer.

Green joined protests against the BBC in 2005 over its decision to air "Jerry Springer - The Opera", which he has said likened Jesus to "the perv in a nappy".

The show, based on American television host Jerry Springer's brash talk show, depicts Jesus being referred to as "a little bit gay" and features Eve attempting to fondle his genitals.

The demonstrations ignited debate in Britain about freedom of expression and whether artists should be allowed to tackle sensitive issues, especially religion.

Civil liberties group Liberty, allowed to make a written submission in the case, called Britain's blasphemy law "outdated" and "ripe for repeal", and argued that the offence of blasphemy violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

"These blasphemy laws should be shelved in dusty archives, not used as a tool to bring mischievous prosecutions against the arts," said Liberty's legal officer Anna Fairclough.

It said the last successful prosecution using blasphemy law was brought by Mary Whitehouse in 1977 against Gay News for publishing a poem about a Roman soldier's love for Christ.

Opening the hearing in court, Green's lawyer Michael Gledhill detailed some of the more provocative scenes in the musical, including the portrayal of Eve as a pole dancer and Adam as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

He compared the fate of "Jerry Springer - the Opera", which won awards and toured Britain, to that of "Behzti", a play depicting scenes of sexual abuse in a Sikh temple which was cancelled in 2004 after violent protests by Sikhs.

Gledhill argued that "Jerry Springer - The Opera" would never have been staged or aired in Britain had it been a satire about Islam, not Christianity.

"No theatre would have produced it. Neither would the BBC have broadcast it," he said.

Several leading artists have complained that overreaction by minority groups in Britain have encouraged self-censorship in the arts.

Grayson Perry, a cross-dressing potter who has won the prestigious Turner Prize, said in remarks reported this week that he consciously avoided tackling the topic of radical Islam in his art because of what he saw as a threat of reprisals.

"I've censored myself," the Times quoted him as saying. "The reason I haven't gone all out attacking Islamism in my art is because I feel real fear that someone will slit my throat."

The High Court hearing is expected to last two days, and judges are likely to hand down a written ruling later.

The hearing continues.