Newtownabbey was right to overturn the ban on play

The Theatre at the Mill, Newtownabbey

The Theatre at the Mill, Newtownabbey

At least one of the arguments deployed by those Newtownabbey councillors who decided to ban the comedy play based on the Bible was persuasive.ap

They said that if a play had been staged which mocked, say, homosexuality or a particular race of people, there would have been fury and demands for a ban.

This is of course true.

In fact, if a theatre production had mocked the Muslim faith, it could quite possibly have led to death threats from the sort of Islamic extremists who denounced Salman Rushdie in the 1980s, and the publishers of the Danish cartoons in 2005.

Some of the critics of the Newtownabbey ban might have been less outspoken in defence of a play that aimed at a target other than Christianity.

Imagine, for example, the Sinn Fein minister Caral Ni Chuilin, who (almost comically for a woman whose job is the promotion of culture) has been seen protesting against Orange marches, rushing to defend a play which ridiculed gaelic culture.

But whereas the supporters of the initial ban on ‘The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged)’ at The Theatre At The Mill have been justified in highlighting the hypocrisy of some of those who criticised their decision, they were foolish to ban the play.

They were foolish partly because their actions mean that the play has now had vastly more publicity than it otherwise would have received.

But more importantly, they were foolish to ride so roughshod over the principle of freedom of cultural expression.

It is ironic that they were unionists, because the Britain to which they are committed has been at the forefront of developing such freedoms and helping to export them to less enlightened parts of the world.

Freedom of expression has to cover cultural displays that we like, as well as others that we don’t Newtownabbey was right last night to overturn the ban.




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