According to the ΣΚΑΙ.gr website, yesterday afternoon (June 9th, 2012) 3 actors that took part in the “Corpus Christi” play, which opened in Athens last week, were arrested with the charge of blasphemy (though they were released the very same day). It is unknown who filed the charge, but a few days earlier the Synod of the Church of Greece released the following statement, about the play:
The Permanent Holy Synod was informed about a blasphemous theatrical play which commits libel against the theanthropic person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of this, we consider it unacceptable because it has no basis on historical fact, nor can someone find arguments in favour of this theatrical play in the Holy Texts, and it also stands against the long tradition of our Country and our Church. It is good and necessary for the playwrights to show respect for the great Orthodox tradition of our People and the teachings of our Church. We feel sorry for the noxious imagination of the playwrights and urge our People to condemn the play.
I’ll pass by the reference to the “basis on historical fact which I consider deliciously ironic (though there are plenty papers on Jesus’ sexuality based on Scripture; just google around) and I find it pleasant that the press release was considerably mild, though it makes the typical “mistake” of considering the entirety of the Greek People as their Flock. I’m also not sure what the word “condemn” means in this context; I hope it is just meant to discourage people from going to see the play (and thankfully I know of no protests, as was the case in the past in similar circumstances).
For those unfamiliar with the play, you can read up at Wikipedia, but here are a few pieces of info. The play “Corpus Christi” (=Body of Christ) was written in 1997 by Terrence McNally, but opened in New York in 1998 after a cancellation and several death-threats against the playwright. The play portrays Jesus and his disciples as homosexuals living in Corpus Christi, TX in the 50s. As can be expected, the play has been condemned repeatedly as blasphemous, but arrests over it must be a world first. There is also a documentary being made about the reactions over the play, entitled “Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption”.
If you are proficient in Greek (in which case you should also head to the greek article) you should also read the following articles (Google Translate might also be of use):
- Make sure to check out E-Lawyer’s article on the event and on similar cases in Greece.
- A really interesting text, based on a speech by Dimitris Demoulis (“Arguments for the abolishment of crimes against the religious peace”) along with “Paradise Lost”‘s comments.
- An article by Diagoras of Melos dealing with the legal concept of blasphemy in Greece.
- An article of the “Ios” column of the Eleftherotypia newspaper on blasphemy.
Here are a couple of articles in English on the subject:
- The Wikipedia article on blasphemy laws, with a special section on Greece.
- “Blasphemy Report”‘s report on Greece.
As a clear example of the schizophrenic relationship between the Greek State and the Orthodox Church, I’ll simply present the following excerpts from our legislation:
From the Greek Constitution:
1. Freedom of religious conscience is inviolable. The enjoyment of civil rights and liberties does not depend on the individual’s religious beliefs.Article 14
1. Every person may express and propagate his thoughts orally, in writing and through the press in compliance with the laws of the State.Article 16
1. Art and science, research and teaching shall be free and their development and promotion shall be an obligation of the State. Academic freedom and freedom of teaching shall not exempt anyone from his duty of allegiance to the Constitution.
THREATS AGAINST THE RELIGIOUS PEACE
1. Anyone who publicly and with malintent swears against God in any way is punished with up to 2 years in prison.
2. Anyone, except as described in par.1, who displays publicly with blasphemy a lack of respect for things divine, is punished with up to 3 months in prison.Article 199
Swearing against Religions
Anyone who publicly and with malintent swears against the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ or any other religion tolerated in Greece, in any way, is punished with up to 2 years in prison.
For those who are used to read about similar cases in the U.S., I should inform them that in Greece we don’t have freedom of expression as in the States. Greece still keeps the tradition of the anti-blasphemy laws of the Metaxas Regime; and though they are rarely enforced, they do exist and are invoked at will.
It should also be noted that Greece has been repeatedly reprimanded by the EU (9 times in total) for not respecting its citizens freedom of expression (not just for blasphemy though) and the Government has ended up paying steep fines because of these convictions.
I am really interested to see how this turns out, but Justice is a really slow process in Greece, so it could be a couple of years.
Yesterday, the Atheist Union of Greece made a press release about the incident. You can read it in Greek here. The following is my own translation in English (i.e. not official):
With surprise and indignation we were informed by the Media about the arrest of actors of the “Corpus Christi” play.
We are speechless by the racist nature of the arrest: In 2012, and while the international community (scientific and otherwise) has recognized for decades that the attraction between members of the same gender is an inextricable part of nature, in Greece the use of this quality in a private artistic show results in arrests.
We are outraged by the obscurantism of our Justice system, which seems to serve anachronistic practices and prejudices, ignoring basic human rights, such as the freedom of expression.
We are concerned about human liberties and whether they are actually being respected in our theoretically modern, western state.
We hope that the Hellenic Justice System will place the respect of the accomplishments of human civilization before the supposed protection of an ideological construct, like religion; we also hope that this episode will lead the way in the abolishment of the anachronistic article 198 of the Penal Code that makes blasphemy a crime. Offending characters of a religious mythology is a victimless “crime”.
The intolerance displayed by some groups when faced with diversity and the challenge of their beliefs cannot be placed before the right to freedom of expression.