Blasphemy prosecutions: trials at the Leeds Assizes – archive, 1911

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Two blasphemy cases were heard at the Leeds Assizes yesterday. In the first the accused was (28), described as an analytical chemist, and known as “Dr. Nikola.”

Detective Thompson said that the prisoner used the alleged blasphemy in Victoria Square in front of the Leeds Town Hall on Sunday morning, August 20, while addressing a meeting attended by some 500 people. The prisoner, it was alleged, said that “God was not fit company for a respectable man like him.” He imagined himself going to heaven and being condemned because he did not believe in “the Creation story,” while Crippen and Charles Peace were given harps because they said they did believe.

The prisoner called witnesses to say that the simile complained of was used in Robert Ingersoll’s book entitled . Mr. Justice Horridge ruled that the book must be produced to be used as evidence.

The witnesses said they had used language of the same sort for many years, and had not been prosecuted.

The prisoner, giving evidence on his own behalf, said he was an analytical chemist by profession, and had a small business in London. He was also a maker of wax models, and in his journeyings about the country he lectured on behalf of the Free Thought Socialist League and the British Secular League, of both of which he had the honour to be president. He had lectured for some years in most of the large towns in England and Scotland, and no one had protested against the language he had used. He was satisfied that he had said nothing the law did not permit hint to say.

The prisoner also addressed the jury at length. He said they were not now living in the Dark Ages, but in the days of Theosophists, spiritmongers, motor-cars, aeroplanes, and such like. He quoted from various writers, including Lord Morley’s Life of Voltaire.

His lordship warned the prisoner that he was travelling wide of the question at issue, and said that the jury must have some mercy shown them. It was the language he choose to use that mattered.

The foreman of the jury: We have had enough of it.
The Prisoner: If the jury wish to condemn me unheard I have done.
His Lordship: The jury wish to do nothing of the sort. They have listened to you for over an hour, and you have not come near to the point yet.
The Prisoner: I may be ignorant of the law, but I am sensible enough to know if I offend the jury, it will not help me.

The prisoner concluded his speech soon afterwards. The jury found him guilty, and his lordship passed sentence of three months’ imprisonment without hard labour.

The Prisoner: The sentence is worthy of your religion, my lord. Great may be your reward in heaven.

John William Gott, of Bradford, was next charged with selling a blasphemous pamphlet entitled “Rib Ticklers, or Questions for Parsons.” He was found guilty and sentenced to four months’ imprisonment without hard labour.