Sing it loud, Jer-ry! Jer-ry!

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The Independent Online

If only life were that simple. If only all that had to be done to restore the moral and spiritual health of the nation was for the BBC not to have shown Jerry Springer - The Opera last night.

Surprisingly, perhaps, this liberal newspaper does not disagree with the Christian offence-takers and crusty reactionaries that too much of British life and especially its cultural life has become coarsened and debased. Yet we remain dumbfounded by the loss of perspective of the protesters over the broadcasting, after the watershed, of a musical with a lot of swearing in it.

Those who fear for standards of decency have more to worry about than the transfer of an acclaimed satire from the West End to a late-night slot on BBC2. Some of the reality television nonsense - Germaine Greer and John McCririck discussing farting on Celebrity Big Brother springs to mind - is far more corrosive of public values than the Springer musical. The BBC should be congratulated for resisting the mis-directed campaign led by the pressure groups Christian Voice and Mediawatch-UK to stop last night's broadcast. And Michael Ancram, the Conservative's deputy leader, should be mocked for his opportunistic leap on to the moral bandwagon. It is possible that the opera relies too heavily on the shock value of a large number of rude words. But if people complain about swearing, they should look not to television, but to the mobile phone, which is a device by which the foul-mouthed impose their half of the conversation on the rest of us.

It is also well understood that some people fail to find a nappy-wearing Jesus saying he is "a bit gay" funny. But to censor attempts to poke fun at religion is an intolerable restriction on the right of free expression. It is for that reason that we oppose the Government's Bill to make the incitement to religious hatred an offence.

The debate about religion and the limits of tolerance is important. But it is a side issue in the present case. Jerry Springer - The Opera is not a satire on Christianity. It is an attack on the absence of moral values that allows serious issues of private family relationships to be used as television entertainment. Christian Voice, Mediawatch and The Independent on Sunday ought to be on its side.