The ancient common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel, which made it illegal to insult Christianity, were abolished two and a half years ago in England and Wales by Section 79 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. This was partly because the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 had created a new offence of inciting hatred against a person on the grounds of their religion.
Notwithstanding, blaspheming, in the dictionary sense of talking impiously or profanely, remains a very common occurrence, not least in television programmes. As part of a more general study into the acceptability of swearwords, YouGov has recently gauged public reactions to the use of ‘hell’, ‘Jesus Christ’ (as an expletive) and 26 other words on television.
Fieldwork was conducted online on 7 and 8 December 2010 among a representative sample of 1,539 adults aged 18 and over, of whom 7% opted to skip the questions on swearing because they feared they would be too offensive.
‘Hell’ was widely regarded as an innocuous utterance, with 67% thinking that the word should be allowed in television programmes at any time. Indeed, from this perspective, it was the most acceptable of all 28 swearwords, being 9% ahead of ‘bloody’. Men (75%) and young persons aged 18-24 (79%) were most likely to take this line.
A further 29% of respondents (particularly women and the over-60s) were only comfortable with ‘hell’ being used after the 9 pm watershed, while a mere 2% wanted to see it banned from television altogether.
People were also fairly tolerant about the use of ‘Jesus Christ’, with 41% considering that the expression should be permitted on television at any time. Just ‘hell’, ‘bloody’, and ‘c**p’ (49%) were deemed more acceptable swearwords. Men (50%), the 18-24s (56%), the 25-39s (51%), and Liberal Democrat voters (47%) were especially relaxed about taking Christ’s name in vain in this way.
However, almost as many (37%) in the whole sample wanted ‘Jesus Christ’ solely to be allowed after 9 pm, rising to 41% with females and 42% of the over-60s. Another 19% (including 35% of the over-60s) wanted its use to be totally banned, which was a middling result, 13 words achieving a higher vote for prohibition and 14 a lower one.
Perhaps it is another mark of progressive secularization that ‘religious swearwords’ no longer seem to shock. And, in case you are wondering, it was not actually the word which has been immortalized in recent BBC Radio 4 spoonerisms which topped the list of public disapproval, although 56% certainly wanted to see that four-letter word totally banned from television. The prize dislike was a six-letter word with racial overtones (58%).
BRIN is, of course, a ‘family website’, so we will refrain from quoting more of this naughty language. The full data tables from this poll can be accessed at: