Christian activists launched a High Court battle yesterday for the right to prosecute the BBC's director general for blasphemy over Jerry Springer: The Opera.
Stephen Green, national director of the evangelical group Christian Voice, claimed the musical was "an offensive, spiteful, systematic mockery and wilful denigration of Christian belief" and a show that no one would have dreamed of making about Islam.
Mr Green is seeking to overturn a refusal by City of Westminster magistrates in January to start proceedings against BBC director general Mark Thompson, who allowed the controversial show – which attracted thousands of complaints – to be screened on BBC2 in January 2005.
Mr Green also wanted to issue a similar summons against the show's producer, Jonathan Thoday, who staged it in London's West End and around the country between 2003 and 2006.
In court, Michael Gledhill QC, appearing for Mr Green, argued that the refusal to issue the summonses was wrong as the show clearly "crossed the blasphemy threshold" and "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".
But David Pannick QC, representing Mr Thompson, asked the court to dismiss Mr Green's application for judicial review, arguing that the magistrate acted within her powers in refusing to issue summonses, since freedom of expression was integral to British society.
The human rights group Liberty is intervening in the case to argue that the blasphemy laws are now outdated and that free speech rights "must protect sacred, profane and secular language alike".
The hearing continues.