30 years ago today: a blasphemy conviction.

Presumably it’s still on the statute books.That the NVaLA are no longer anything like power in the land, is a great pleasure to me. On This Day: 1977: Gay paper guilty of blasphemy

The Gay News and its editor Denis Lemon have been found guilty of blasphemous libel in the first case of its kind for more than 50 years.The case was brought as a private prosecution by the secretary of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, Mary Whitehouse.She objected to a poem and illustration published in the fortnightly paper last year about a homosexual centurion’s love for Christ at the Crucifixion.After the jury gave their 10-2 guilty verdict at the Old Bailey Mrs Whitehouse said: “I’m rejoicing because I saw the possibility of Our Lord being vilified. Now it’s been shown that it won’t be”.The poem, The Love that Dares to Speak its Name, by Professor James Kirkup, 54, was distributed to the jury and reporters. However, the judge, Mr Alan King-Hamilton, ordered that it could not be published.Prosecuting Counsel John Smyth told the court: “it may be said that this is a love poem – it is not, it is a poem about buggery.”The defence argued that far from being “vile” and “perverted” the poem glorified Christ by illustrating that all of mankind could love him.During the six-day trial columnist and TV personality Bernard Levin and novelist Margaret Drabble testified that the Gay News was a responsible paper that did not encourage illegal sexual practices.Blasphemous libel is akin to the ecclesiastical charge of heresy – once punishable by death – and in the UK is an offence under common law and the 1697 Blasphemy Act.The last time a case was brought in the UK was in 1921 when a Mr Gott was sentenced to nine months in prison for publishing a pamphlet that suggested that Christ looked like a clown as he entered Jerusalem.Represented by playwright and novelist John Mortimer, QC, Mr Lemon, 32, sat silently in the dock as the verdict was given. 

6 Replies to “30 years ago today: a blasphemy conviction.”

  1. Oops, fixed.

    Yes I can do math, I just can’t type. 🙂

    This was the year before I arrived in the UK; I still remember my first visit to Sainsburys in Blackpole (Worcester) in ’78 – where the ‘Wine’ shelf was about the size of two largeish book-cases.

    Nowadays it’d be a few rows.

    The country’s definitely changed – tastes and morals – but really, ‘blasphemy’ ?

    Within our lifetime ?

  2. Yes, within our lifetime.

    I think the biggest change in Britain happened during the period 1979-82, the early Thatcher years.

    Basically, “the establishment” lost control of the rudder and the yuppies took over. The former looked back, the latter looked forward to cultural hedonism and aspirational, extroversion of wealth.

  3. I am amazed that even as recently as 1977 blasphemy was an offence, and even more so that it may still be on the statute books!! Gob smacking!

    I think all such laws (and any protecting religion) should be removed. And personally I would remove the religious connection to any state holidays, celebration or occasion.

  4. I agree with Neil, and I’m a Christian. I think any and all personal faiths (not just my own) deserve respect and tolerance, but they don’t need laws to protect them. We already have laws protecting people from violence, threats and harrassment, and we have laws which defend property whether churches, houses, businesses or anything else. That’s enough. We don’t have laws which protect ideas. Ideas have to stand up and defend themselves.

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