Evangelical in UK court over 'blasphemous' Jerry Springer opera

London, England - The leader of a small evangelical group went to Britain's High Court on Tuesday in a bid to sue the producers of "Jerry Springer: The Opera" for blasphemy.

A lawyer for Stephen Green and his group Christian Voice said the satirical musical based on the trashy U.S. talk show was guilty of "parodying Christian beliefs scurrilously and in the most ludicrous manner."

Earlier this year, a lower court rejected a request to issue summonses against "Springer" producer John Thoday and Mark Thompson, director-general of the British Broadcasting Corp., which televised the show in 2005.

Green's lawyers are asking three High Court judges to allow private prosecution for blasphemous libel.

Green's lawyer, Michael Gledhill, said "neither Mr. Thoday nor Mr. Thompson felt the least inhibition in ridiculing God, Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the sacrament of the Eucharist and Christian belief." He said the producers would never have dared mount a show that treated Islam in a similar way.

Christian Voice is a Wales-based religious organization that opposes abortion, homosexuality, Sunday trading and British membership in the European Union.

The human rights group Liberty has been allowed to intervene in the case, arguing that the blasphemy law — which covers insults to Christianity but no other religion — should be scrapped.

"Jerry Springer" opened to rave reviews at Britain's National Theatre in April 2003, and later had a successful West End run.

Its creators say it grapples with issues of good, evil and personal responsibility. But some Christians have been angered by its hundreds of expletives, cast of lowlifes and depiction of Jesus Christ in a diaper admitting he is a "bit gay."

Several regional British theaters canceled performances of the show after pressure from Christian Voice. A long-discussed Broadway run also fell through, although "Jerry Springer" is scheduled for two performances at new York's Carnegie Hall in January, with Harvey Keitel in the title role.

No one has been jailed for blasphemy in Britain since 1922, when socialist campaigner John William Gott was sentenced to nine months' hard labor for comparing Jesus to a circus clown.

In 1977, anti-smut campaigner Mary Whitehouse pursued private prosecution for blasphemous libel against the magazine Gay News after it published a poem about a Roman centurion's love for Jesus Christ. Whitehouse won, and the magazine and its editor were fined.

The High Court hearing is expected to last two days.