Blasphemy hearing vs BBC winds up, judgment later

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LONDON, Nov 21 (Reuters) A court hearing about whether a Christian activist can prosecute British state broadcaster BBC under blasphemy laws wound up today, and judges will deliver a written verdict at a later date.

Stephen Green of Christian Voice was at London's High Court this week 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.

Thoday is the producer of musical ''Jerry Springer-The Opera'', which the BBC aired in 2005. Green argues that the show is blasphemous, likening Jesus to ''the perv in a nappy''.

Based on US television host Jerry Springer's brash talk show, the musical depicts Jesus being referred to as ''a little bit gay'' and features Eve attempting to fondle his genitals.

Green's lawyer Michael Gledhill, speaking yesterday at the opening of the two-day hearing, 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.

But David Pannick, representing Thompson, said freedom of expressiom was integral to British society just as religious beliefs were.

The BBC's decision to air the show led to demonstrations and a record number of complaints from viewers, and ignited debate about whether freedom of speech should take precedence over religious sensitivities.

Civil liberties group Liberty, which made a written submission in the case, called Britain's blasphemy law ''outdated'' and ''ripe for repeal'', and argued that the offence of blasphemy violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

REUTERS RSA KN2218

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