Archaic blasphemy law faces last judgment
Monday 25 November 1996
Blasphemy law is so discredited that the Government has said it would not enforce it. But that did not stop it backing the British Board of Film Classification and its director James Ferman all the way to the Euro- pean Court of Human Rights, after Nigel Wingrove's video Visions of Ecstasy was refused a certificate almost seven years ago to the day.
Apart from quashing the ban on the Wingrove film, a ruling against the Government would lead to the abolition of an old law which excludes Roman Catholics, Methodists, Muslims, Jews or any religion other than Church of England - and does not apply at all in Scotland.
As high-profile productions like Madonna's Like a Prayer video and Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ (not banned) have come and gone, Mr Wingrove has got on with the tortuous business of complaining to the Strasbourg authorities. He, and presumably the board and the Video Appeals Committee to whom he unsuccessfully appealed, never imagined that the future of the law of blasphemy might turn on the rejection of a 20-minute video by a then complete unknown.
In it, the deep love of Christ of St Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Carmelite nun, is represented by a series of sensual visions, including scenes where she licks his wounds and embraces him on the Cross. Mr Wingrove said: "It didn't enter my head that it could be blasphemous. I wasn't making a film about Christ. I was making a film about St Teresa." He garnered the support of some churchmen, and Fay Weldon, Marina Warner and Salman Rushdie, who appeared on his behalf in the Strasbourg proceedings. Ironically, his failure to recoup the costs of the film and thousands of pounds of legal costs, led to his current occupation as a distributor of repackaged erotic and horror movies from the Seventies.
Mary Whitehouse's prosecution of Gay News is the only successful case of blasphemy brought since 1922, and at the height of the controversy over the fatwa on Mr Rushdie over The Satanic Verses, John Patten, then a Home Office minister, told Muslims that blasphemy law was "inappropriate for dealing with matters of faith". But in relation to film and video, Mr Fermanand his colleagues have shown themselves willing to deal with such matters - minus the protection of a trial before a jury. The VAC almost never disagrees.
The ruling comes on the same day as the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, represents the Govern- ment in a visit to the Strasbourg court. He wants to impress on it the need for member states to be able to manage their own affairs in accord with national character, traditions, religious beliefs and moral standards - the so-called "margin of appreciation".
Two years ago the European Commission on Human Rights accepted arguments from Geoffrey Robertson QC, Mr Wingrove's counsel, that the ban on Visions of Ecstasy broke the free expression guarantee in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. But at about the same time, a majority of the full court ruled in a case involving an Austrian film that the "margin of appreciation" applied - denying viewers the opportunity to make up their minds themselves.
- 1 Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response from Ellen DeGeneres
- 2 People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
- 3 Greek debt crisis: Yanis Varoufakis's funniest (and most memorable) quotes
- 4 The biggest first date turnoff has been revealed
- 5 Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response from Ellen DeGeneres
Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
Man dies instantly after shooting firework from top of his head
Isis schoolgirl Amira Abase who fled London to join terrorists in Syria mocks victims of Tunisia massacre
Father faces deportation to Thailand after 27 years in Britain for two 'stupid crimes'
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
£35,000 - £40,000 based on experience : Metail Ltd: As a Business Development ...
£30 - 40k (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product ...
£17000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company are looking for a S...
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 1st / 2nd Line Technical Anal...