Christians 'not offended' by Jesus jokes – poll

Meanwhile three quarters of believers agree that freedom of speech should not be restricted even if it offends people with deeply-held religious convictions.

The finding emerged from a survey of attitudes among more than 2,000 committed Christians conducted in the wake of the international furore over the film mocking the Prophet Mohammed.

It is the first in a series of studies to gauge the opinion in the pews by Christian Research, a polling and research group, using an online panel of thousands of churchgoers.

While those polled overwhelmingly expressed sympathy for Muslims who were offended by the film they were equally strong in their view that curbs on freedom of expression should only be a last resort.

More than eight out of 10 (84 per cent) said they would “defend” followers of other faiths such as Islam from antireligious sentiment even if they profoundly disagreed with their beliefs.

A similar proportion said that freedom of expression must accommodate all views, except for extreme opinions likely to incite hatred.

Although opinion was split on whether Britain should ever reinstate blasphemy laws, the largest group opposed the idea.

But when asked about their own faith, six out of 10 agreed it was possible to “demean, mock or insult” God without offending Christians.

Meanwhile almost seven out of 10 said they welcomed “strong anti-Christian opinion” as providing an opportunity to “exchange ideas”.

It comes after a series of cases in which Christians in Britain were said to be feel under attack from “militant secularism”.

“Far from being on the defensive, it appears that most Christians welcome the opportunity to wrestle over key issues and are prepared to stand alongside believers of other faiths who are less familiar with being lampooned or more sensitive to criticism,” said Rob Powys-Smith of Christian Research, who is presenting the findings today at the Christian Resources Exhibition North, a trade fair for all things clerical in Manchester.

“In fact, respondents showed they welcome thought-provoking opposition that challenge their beliefs.”