Brazil’s Supreme Court has overturned a ban on Netflix’s streaming of The First Temptation of Christ, a film that depicted Jesus as homosexual and had previously been ruled as blasphemous by Brazil law standards.

In Brazil, defamation of religion is illegal under Article 208 of the Penal Code; specifically, the code prohibits public vilification of any religious act or object of religious worship, punishable by a fine or a prison sentence up to a year.

The president of the Supreme Court, Dias Toffoli, reversed the previous decision and said Netflix should be permitted to continue offering their comedy film because “freedom of speech” is fundamental in a democracy. He continued saying that, “… One cannot suppose that a humorous satire has the ability to weaken the values of the Christian faith, whose existence is traced back more than two thousand years, and which is the belief of the majority of Brazilian citizens.”

The comedy depicts Jesus of Nazareth as a homosexual who brings his boyfriend home for his 30th birthday party. The comedy also depicts God the Father as a cruel and spiteful deity and St. Joseph as cowardly.

The original judicial decision to ban the film in Brazil followed a petition signed by over two million Brazilians stating that the comedic film broke the law and ‘seriously offended Christians.’ The uproar against the film escalated when, on Christmas Eve, the production company Porta dos Fundos responsible for the film, was the target of a firebomb attack.

Netflix had appealed the lower court ruling, saying that it would fight for artistic expression, ‘which goes to the heart of great storytelling.’

The controversy surrounding this film echoes the now historic controversy in the UK which surrounded the 1979 film Life of Brian starring John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle. Life of Brian tells the story of Brian of Nazareth who is born the same day as Jesus of Nazareth, mistaken for him, who is worshipped as the Messiah and is then crucified by the Romans.

Whilst Monty Python always maintained that the film was not blasphemous, nor intended to destroy people’s faith, but rather was intended to lampoon the practices of modern organised religions, nevertheless the film was deemed blasphemous by many and was banned in certain countries including Ireland and Sweden, as well as in certain parts of the UK by outraged town councils.

The UK’s blasphemy laws were abolished in 2008. The last successful prosecution for blasphemy here was in 1977, when the publisher of Gay News, Denis Lemon, was given a suspended sentence for printing a poem about a Roman centurion’s love for Jesus. The private prosecution had been brought by the campaigner Mary Whitehouse.