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John William Gott

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John William Gott (1866–1922)[1] was the last person in Britain to be sent to prison for blasphemy. A trouser salesman from Bradford, he led the Freethought Socialist League.

In 1911, Gott was sentenced to four months in jail for publishing attacks on Christianity. He continued his campaign, however, and further periods of imprisonment followed: two weeks at Birkenhead in 1916; and six weeks in Birmingham in 1917. His final arrest was in 1921.

At his last trial for blasphemy at the Old Bailey in London in 1921, he was found guilty, and sentenced to nine months' imprisonment with hard labour.[2]

An appeal was lodged (supported by the National Secular Society, who had never accepted Gott as a member); the Lord Chief Justice upheld the conviction. Giving the judgement at the Court of Appeal, Lord Trevethin C.J. said:

"It does not require a person of strong religious feelings to be outraged by a description of Jesus Christ entering Jerusalem 'like a circus clown on the back of two donkeys'. There are other passages in the pamphlets equally offensive to anyone in sympathy with the Christian religion, whether he be a strong Christian, or a lukewarm Christian, or merely a person sympathizing with their ideals. Such a person might be provoked to a breach of the peace."[3]

By the time Gott was released, his weak health had been broken by the harsh conditions of his imprisonment. He died on 4 November 1922, at the age of 56.

References

  1. "John Gott : Oxford Biography Index entry". http://www.oxforddnb.com/index/101047693/. Retrieved 2007-01-11. 
  2. God and the trouser press: a old novelty | Past Notes by Graham Stewart - Times Online at www.timesonline.co.uk
  3. E. Lauterpacht, C. J. Greenwood, International Law Reports, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p.428
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