Blasphemy Law Is Dead
No arrests as "blasphemous" poem is publicly read and distributed.
Militant Christians try to drown out poem reading and deny free speech.
"We have won an important victory for free speech and the right to protest", declared human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
"No one was arrested. The police didn't even take our names and addresses. The blasphemy law is now a dead letter. If the authorities are not prepared to enforce the law, they should abolish it".
"This protest spells the death of the blasphemy law. I am hopeful that Lord Avebury will succeed in securing a parliamentary majority for his Bill to abolish the common law offence of blasphemy".
Mr Tatchell was speaking after the civil disobedience protest in defiance of the blasphemy law, which took place in London today, Thursday 11 July 2002.
Although the police took no action against the poem's readers and distributors, they did film the protest and have forwarded the film to the Director of Public Prosecutions for a decision on whether to initiate legal action. A ruling is expected from the DPP in the next four weeks. A prosecution is thought unlikely. It would involve the trial of all those who read and published the poem, including several of Britain's leading writers, academics and MPs.
The protest was heckled constantly by 20 Christian fundamentalists. They tried to drown out the poem reading and speeches with loud, aggressive shouts.
"These Christian militants were aggressive and hateful. We tolerated their protest, but they were not prepared to let us exercise our right to free speech", said Mr Tatchell.
James Kirkup's banned "blasphemous" poem was read and distributed in London today - Thursday 11 July 2002 - the 25th anniversary of Gay News's conviction for publishing the same poem, The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name, which suggests that Jesus was gay.
It was read out on the steps of St Martins-in-the-Fields Church, Trafalgar Square by Barry Duke, Shirely Dent, Jim Herrick, Jonathan Meades, George Melly, Professor Richard Norman, Sam Rimmer, Brian Sedgemore MP, Hanne Stinson, Peter Tatchell and Keith Wood.
In alphabetical order, each of the 11 readers read one verse from Kirkup's 11 verse poem. All held placards, with slogans including "End Religious Privilege" and "Defend Free Speech".
The poem reading was followed by speeches from the poet Alan Brownjohn and the news editor of Gay News at the time of its conviction in 1977, Andrew Lumsden.
Peter Tatchell concluded the protest by challenging the authorities: "arrest us or abolish the blasphemy law".
The protest and poem publication was co-ordinated by the British Humanist Association, National Secular Society, Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association, New Humanist and the Rationalist Press Association.
"The blasphemy law gives the Christian religion privileged protection against criticism and dissent. No other institution enjoys such sweeping powers to suppress the expression of opinions and ideas", says Peter Tatchell, who helped organise today's protest.
"In the name of free speech, the right to protest and artistic freedom, we call for the offence of blasphemy to be abolished", he said.
On 11 July 1977, the fortnightly gay newspaper, Gay News, was found guilty of blasphemous libel after it published James Kirkup's poem, The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name.
Today's blasphemy protest coincides with a Bill, sponsored by Lord Avebury, which would abolish the common law offence of blasphemy. Lord Avebury's Bill is currently being considered by the Select Committee on Religious Offences.
There follows a copy of the leaflet which was distributed outside St Martins-in-the-Fields Church, London, on 11 July 2002
Abolish the Blasphemy Law
Twenty-five years ago, on 11 July 1977, the newspaper Gay News was convicted of blasphemous libel for publishing James Kirkup's poem, The Love that Dares To Speak Its Name.
The editor of Gay News, the late Denis Lemon, was fined £500 and sentenced to nine months in prison - suspended for 18 months. Gay News was fined £1,000.
On this twenty-fifth anniversary of the conviction of Gay News, we issue a public challenge:
Arrest us or abolish the blasphemy law.
We are publishing and distributing James Kirkup's banned poem in defiance of state censorship. What we are doing should not be a crime. We believe you have the right to read this poem. If you are likely to be offended, you have a choice: do not read it.
The blasphemy law gives the Christian religion privileged protection against criticism and dissent. No other institution enjoys such sweeping powers to suppress the expression of opinions and ideas.
In the name of free speech, the right to protest and artistic freedom, we call for the abolition of the blasphemy law:
A C Grayling,
Alice Mahon, MP
John Mortimer QC,
Professor Richard Norman,
Geoffrey Robertson QC,
Brian Sedgemore MP,
British Humanist Association,
Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association,
National Secular Society,
Rationalist Press Association
Printed and published by the above named individuals and organisations.
c/o 47 Theobalds Road, London, WC1X 8SP
Defend Free Speech
End Religious Privilege
The poem in your hand is illegal.
Turn over to find out why ...
The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name
by James Kirkup
As they took him from the cross
I, the centurion, took him in my arms-
the tough lean body
of a man no longer young,
but well hung.
He was still warm.
While they prepared the tomb
I kept guard over him.
His mother and the Magdalen
had gone to fetch clean linen
to shroud his nakedness.
I was alone with him.
For the last time
I kissed his mouth. My tongue
found his, bitter with death.
I licked his wound-
the blood was harsh
For the last time
I laid my lips around the tip
of that great cock, the instrument
of our salvation, our eternal joy.
The shaft, still throbbed, anointed
with death's final ejaculation.
I knew he'd had it off with other men-
with Herod's guards, with Pontius Pilate,
With John the Baptist, with Paul of Tarsus
with foxy Judas, a great kisser, with
the rest of the Twelve, together and apart.
He loved all men, body, soul and spirit - even me.
So now I took off my uniform, and, naked,
lay together with him in his desolation,
caressing every shadow of his cooling flesh,
hugging him and trying to warm him back to life.
Slowly the fire in his thighs went out,
while I grew hotter with unearthly love.
It was the only way I knew to speak our love's proud name,
to tell him of my long devotion, my desire, my dread-
something we had never talked about. My spear, wet with blood,
his dear, broken body all open wounds,
and in each wound his side, his back,
his mouth - I came and came and came
as if each coming was my last.
And then the miracle possessed us.
I felt him enter into me, and fiercely spend
his spirit's final seed within my hole, my soul,
pulse upon pulse, unto the ends of the earth-
he crucified me with him into kingdom come.
-This is the passionate and blissful crucifixion
same-sex lovers suffer, patiently and gladly.
They inflict these loving injuries of joy and grace
one upon the other, till they die of lust and pain
within the horny paradise of one another's limbs,
with one voice cry to heaven in a last divine release.
Then lie long together, peacefully entwined, with hope
of resurrection, as we did, on that green hill far away.
But before we rose again, they came and took him from me.
They knew what we had done, but felt
no shame or anger. Rather they were glad for us,
and blessed us, as would he, who loved all men.
And after three long, lonely days, like years,
in which I roamed the gardens of my grief
seeking for him, my one friend who had gone from me,
he rose from sleep, at dawn, and showed himself to me before
all others. And took me to him with the love that now forever dares to speak
"Everyone has the right to freedom of expression"
Article 10 European Convention of Human Rights
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