A court has told a Czech cardinal he must rise above blasphemous “insults” contained in a theatre play for the sake of democracy and freedom of expression.
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The Regional Court of Brno on Wednesday dismissed an appeal brought by Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Dominik Duka, over a Municipal Court finding that a controversial play did not offend Duka’s religious sentiments.
The play – Our Violence and Your Violence, by Croatian writer and director Oliver Frljic – features actors in the nude and a scene in which a blond Jesus rapes a Muslim woman in a hijab.
That controversial rape scene is part of the work’s commentary on the hypocrisy of a West that prides itself on being the bulwark of civilisation while letting wars and humanitarian catastrophes in other places go unchecked.
But Duka was offended by the production, and tried to stop it being performed in Brno last year.
When that censorship failed, Duka brought suit and demanded an apology from the producers.
After Wednesday’s court ruling, the producers do not have to say sorry to the cardinal, but Duka and his legal team have flagged their intention to appeal.
Duka’s lawyer Ronald Němec had questioned in court whether Czechs want to live in a society in which “insults” are freely tolerated.
The rape scene in particular had caused particular scandal and offence. in the face of which Duka has a duty to protect the faith and freedom of religion and conscience of Christians in the country, the counsel continued.
But the Brno court dismissed the cardinal’s arguments and said in a democratic society different points of view must be allowed to be expressed.
Artistic freedom must be given space to achieve the ends of democracy, the court added.
“If it has the potential to contribute to the debate on issues of public concern, it is legally permissible; even if some of the faithful have to make a certain sacrifice for it, such a thing must be endured in a democratic society”, the court wrote in its verdict.
In a statement announcing his intention to appeal the Brno finding, Duka and Němec blasted the court for rejecting their appeal on the basis of their being “few Christians in the Czech Republic, so their faith has less protection against freedom of speech”.
“We consider it unacceptable that, because there are a minority of believing Christians in our country, it is possible to insult and defame the basis of their faith, because, according to the court, a democratic majority wants it”, Duka and Němec.
The cardinal and his lawyer said the court’s finding “brings us back to totalitarian thinking and to the time when Christians and the Church were persecuted and oppressed”.