From The Telegraph U.K.
International Blasphemy Day: from Danish cartoons to Jerry Springer – The Opera
It’s International Blasphemy Day. We take a look at some of the key moments in the history of the profane.
By Tom Chivers
Published: 3:29PM BST 30 Sep 2009
International Blasphemy Day, 30 September, is intended “to remind the world that religion should never again be beyond open and honest discussion”.
It marks the anniversary of the 2005 publication of the 12 Danish cartoons that depicted Mohammed and led to worldwide riots. Its founders want to “dismantle the wall which exists between religion and criticism”.
It has, of course, met with criticism – prominent US Catholic Bill Donohue accuses the movement of picking on Christianity: “The stated purpose of Blasphemy Day has nothing to do with any religion but Islam. So who have they chosen to mock? You guessed it – Christians.”
However, not all religious people take offence. “The Lord Jesus Christ was and is despised and rejected of men,” says Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are not commanded to defend his honor, but to be willing to share in the scorn directed to him.”
Here is a brief look at some of the recent history of blasphemy.
• Blasphemy in the UK
The last successful prosecution for blasphemy under British law was surprisingly recent – 1977.
The publisher of the magazine Gay News was given a suspended sentence when he printed a poem, The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name, telling the story of a gay Roman centurion’s love for Jesus.
The prosecution had been brought privately by the morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse.
• Jerry Springer – The Opera
In 2005, the BBC broadcast the musical Jerry Springer: The Opera on national television. In 2007, the campaign group Christian Voice tried to bring a prosecution under blasphemy laws, which outlaw anything which insults, offends or vilifies the Deity, Christ or the Christian religion.
Stephen Green, the director of Christian Voice, said: “Christ is shown apparently wearing a nappy, swearing, saying that he’s a ‘little bit gay’, while God is portrayed as an ineffectual old fool.”
The courts rejected the prosecution.
• UK blasphemy laws are lifted
After the failure of the Jerry Springer prosecution, the human rights organisation Liberty moved to have the laws changed, saying that they “should be shelved in dusty archives, not used as a tool to bring mischievous prosecutions against the arts.”
Within a year they had achieved their goal. MPs voted to abolish the laws in May 2008, after a campaign supported by the author Philip Pullman and the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.
Edward Leigh, a Conservative MP, said the move would encourage more people to make fun of Christianity. He said: “Getting rid of the blasphemy law sends a message that that is OK, but it is insulting to many Christians.”
In the United States, laws against blasphemy were declared unconstitutional in 1952, as the First Amendment of the Constitution demands the separation of church and state. Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Wyoming and Pennsylvania have blasphemy laws on their statutes nevertheless, but no-one has ever been prosecuted under them.
• Irish blasphemy laws
As Britain has moved away from criminalising being rude to deities, across the Irish Sea the opposite has happened. In July 2009, the Dáil – the Irish Parliament – voted to make “publishing or uttering blasphemous material” a crime punishable with a fine of up to 25,000 euros.
Prof Dawkins described the move as “a wretched, backward, uncivilised regression to the middle ages,” while Father Ted creator Graham Linehan said that it might have made his sitcom illegal.
The Irish Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, said he was surprised at the “hysterical and incorrect reaction” to the proposals, adding that he believed one of his critics “to have a brain the size of a pea.”
• Mohammed the teddy bear
A British schoolteacher was arrested in Sudan and sentenced to 15 days in prison for insulting the Prophet, after letting her class of seven-year-olds name a teddy bear Mohammed.
Following an international outcry she was released after eight days, despite calls from some Islamic hardliners in the country for her to be publicly flogged or even put to death.
British Muslim peers Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi had flown to Sudan to negotiate her release.
• Muslims march over cartoons of the Prophet
The snowflake that started an avalanche. In September 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten performed an experiment testing “the limits of freedom of speech”. Its results were spectacular.
It printed 12 cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. It is blasphemous in Islam to create images of the Prophet – especially when he appears to have a bomb in his turban.
Thousands of Muslims took to the streets around the world. Danish embassies were firebombed, and over 100 deaths were recorded worldwide (some caused when police opened fire on rioting crowds).
A photograph apparently showing a protestor holding a sign saying “Behead those who say Islam is violent” did the internet rounds for a while, but was eventually shown to be doctored.
International Blasphemy Day was founded in response to the outcry.
• Wafer kidnap angers Catholics
In July 2008, a student at a Florida university attended a Catholic Mass. Having received the Communion wafer, he didn’t swallow it, but instead tried to return to his seat to show it to a friend. He was then allegedly accosted by members of the congregation who tried physically to retrieve the Body of Christ.
The local priest described it as “kidnap”, and the abovementioned Bill Donohue called it “beyond hate speech”. The student received emails condemning him to hell, as well as threats to break into his dorm room to steal the cracker back. He then returned the wafer at the following mass, while armed university police officers stood guard.
Atheist blogger PZ Myers, in a post entitled ‘It’s a goddamned cracker!’, defended the student and asked his readers to get hold of a Communion wafer that he could hold hostage himself. He said that he received four death threats in response to the post, including one that “says I should be fired, that the author would like to kill me, and that I only criticize because Catholics are so gentle and kind.”