Spanish Artist Facing Prison For “Insulting” The Catholic Church
There is a disturbing trend in Western nations toward enforcement of laws against "insulting" religions.
An artist in Spain is facing the prospect of prison time over a 54-second film made in 1978 that allegedly insults the Catholic Church:
One of Spain’s leading underground artists is due to appear in court today facing up to a year in prison over a film short he made in 1978 on “how to cook Jesus Christ”.
Javier Krahe has been taken to court by a Catholic legal association, the Centro Juridico Tomas Moro, for “offending religious feelings” – a little-known offence. The Catholic association says the law has never before been applied in Spanish legal history.
Banned under Spain’s strict censorship laws in 1978, Krahe’s 54-second film was finally broadcast on television in 2004 as the backdrop to an interview with the artist.
The film uses culinary language and images to show viewers how to “remove the nails and separate him from the crucifix, which we leave to one side” before the white ebony figure of Christ is shown being lightly smothered in butter, placed on a bed of aromatic herbs in a glass tray, and popped into an oven. Another culinary “guideline” recommends using a proportion of “one gaunt Christ” for each two potential diners.
“After three days inside, he comes out of the cooker by himself!” is the film’s punchline as the oven door opens unassisted and the tray with the “cooked Christ” slides magically forwards.
Krahe – who has sought to expose the darker and more hypocritical facets of Spanish society for nearly half a century through acerbic anti-establishment humour – said he considers the trial over a film he made 34 years ago, and its much later broadcast, to be absurd.
“How do you show that someone’s religious feelings have been hurt?” he told El Pais newspaper. “I’m accused of a series of things that I haven’t done. I don’t appear on television cooking Christ, and I haven’t ever used these images [in a performance].”
As Jonathan Turley notes, what makes this case significant is that it is merely the latest in a long line of recent developments in the West whereby governmental authorities have begin to bow to pressure, mostly from Muslims and governments in majority Muslim nations, that crimes for insulting religious beliefs be strengthened:
The West has steadily yielded to the demands of religious groups that free speech must be curtailed in the name of faith. At the same time, West governmental and religious leaders have denounced agnostics and atheists as one of the greatest threat facing the West (here and here and here and here). President Obama and Hillary Clinton have been facilitating this trend by working with Muslim nations to develop an international standard allowing for the prosecution of those who insult religion. The Administration has drawn a dangerous line with Muslim countries in first supporting the concept of an international blasphemy standard. As I have mentioned before, the efforts of the Obama Administration to work with countries like Egypt on an international blasphemy standard is a threat to free speech around the world. After first supporting an international blasphemy standard, the Administration sought to get Egypt and other countries to adopt the Brandenburg standard as the basis for such prosecutions. These cases show the mentality of countries pushing for a “balance” between free speech and religion. It also shows why the use of the Brandenburg standard is so dangerous in the hands of such officials who view free speech as the cause of imminent violence. Because any joke or image of the Prophet can trigger violence, the standard is immediately satisfied in countries like Egypt, which can then claim some legal legitimacy under the standard created with the United States.
It goes without saying that the very idea of a law that purports to imprison someone for insulting religion or offending the religious beliefs of another person is anathema to the way the United States views Freedom Of Speech and Freedom of Religion. That’s why it’s so distressing that an American President would even consider working with other nation’s on a station to create what would essentially be an international law against blasphemy. To put it simply, there are no acceptable circumstances under which any person should be prosecuted merely because they said something that offends another persons religious beliefs, or produced a work of art that did the same.
To some degree, of course, the seeming Western acquiescence on this issue is arguably a response to the protests we’ve seen flare up in the Muslim world over supposedly blasphemous words and actions, starting with the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, and continuing through the response to the so-called Mohammad Cartoons, the murder of Theo Van Gogh, and beyond. But the proper response to episodes like this isn’t to silence the so-called blasphemers or threaten them with punishment, but to punish those who respond to mere words with threats, violence, and murder. They must learn that, if they want to live in a pluralistic Western society then they must accept the values of that society, including the right of others to say things that they may find deeply offensive. And the leaders of Western nations, most especially the United States, should not be working with repressive nations to craft laws that would potentially create claims of “religious offensiveness” against anyone anywhere in the world.
As this case shows us, of course, it isn’t just Muslims that would make use of such laws. In this case, it’s the Catholic Church, or at least a group of highly orthodox Catholics. In other case, the Church of Scientology could be the ones to take advantage of such laws. The fact that this law is even still on the books should be an embarrassment to Spain. The fact that this man is being prosecuted for a film that lasted less than a minute is simply outrageous. One hopes sanity will prevail at some point.