The right to free speech comes with responsibilityÂ
Rt Rev Christopher Foster, Bishop of PortsmouthÂ Â Â
Jokes about religion aren't anything new. I know that comedians make jokes about the appearanceÂ of bishops like me when we robe for church services, for instance.
You might thinkÂ I would be offended by that, but I'm not. Jokes about religion aren't byÂ definition offensive, but they can be if they are personal and harmful to an individual or group.
I know that I am fair game in this regard, as are all bishops to one degree or another, and our nationÂ has a vital tradition of using humour as a tool for holding the establishment to account.
From medieval court jesters through to modern TV satire, comedy reminds those in positions ofÂ authority that they are still regular human beings, as fallible as anyone else.
And while I'm not askingÂ for extra mockery, I know that when people joke at the Church's expense, that's usually what's goingÂ on.
If I'm not offended by jokes about my robes, where should we draw the line?
Recently the comedian Rowan Atkinson defended Boris Johnson's comments about women wearingÂ the burka and said he didn't need to apologise because freedom of speech is important.
AbsolutelyÂ it is.Â But that doesn't mean it's right or good to say things that hurt, and would harm others. The point isÂ that having the right to say things doesn't always justify saying them.
All of us, and particularly those in important, influential or powerful positions '“ whether comediansÂ by trade or not '“ shouldn't speak or make jokes at the expense of a whole group of people.
Then itÂ becomes about someone wielding power to belittle a specific group of people, instead of using thatÂ power to bring people together and build up our communities.
So I think there's something here about intent. We all say things we shouldn't, or things we regret,Â from time to time, so I'm not about to pass judgement here. But I do think that words are incrediblyÂ powerful, and they can be used to hurt or heal, to break down or build up.
We have great freedoms in this country, so let us use our words with care, to heal, to challengeÂ when needed, but always in order to build up our common life.