Three years ago Martin Budich, the organizer of a group called Religious Freedom in the Ruhr, decided to put on a public viewing of the British comedy classic Life of Brian on Good Friday in the western city of Bochum.
A few dozen people turned up to watch the film which pokes fun at the biblical story of the Messiah.
Nothing newsworthy there, one might think.
But three years later Budich is preparing to face the highest court in the land for the simple act of showing a film which is rated suitable for children in most countries.
Budich himself is not shocked that it has come to this. It was his intention from the beginning, he told The Local.
Showing the film was a deliberate act of rebellion against the ‘holiday laws’ which every German state has, and which prevent people from partying – or showing films that are not approved by the state – on religious holidays.
On Thursday the final obstacle to taking this law to the constitutional court was removed, after the High Court in North Rhine-Westphalia upheld a ruling from a lower court that ordered Budich to pay a €100 fine.
He can now appeal the decision in Federal Constitutional Court which will have to consider whether the prohibition of showing the movie was in breach of Budich’s constitutional rights.
The 66-year-old told The Local that, when it comes to the relationship between Church and State, Germany sometimes feels “a bit more like Saudi Arabia than other countries that went through the Enlightenment.”
“That non-Christians in Germany are told that they are not allowed to have fun on Christian holidays is pretty notable,” he said, adding that the 'holiday laws' are “just the tip of the iceberg.”.
“Nowhere [in Europe] is the Church so privileged as it is here,” he declared, citing the examples of the state collecting taxes on behalf of the Church and the obligation for state schools to provide religious education classes.
So while he sees his Life of Brian protest as a means of helping the people of Bochum watch whatever film they want, when they want and how they want – he also hopes it will help people in Berlin dance the night away to techno, and perhaps eventually lead to an end to Church privileges.
The film itself he sees as a perfect analogy for this struggle.
“The Life of Brian is against dogmatism. It is against unquestioning obedience to leadership”, traits he sees as characterizing the Catholic Church.
“The Catholic Church is sexist, dogmatic and authoritarian.”
“[But] Germany recognizes the Vatican as a state even though it is a dictatorship in the classical sense of the word. And the Vatican's ambassador in Germany is the spokesperson for all ambassadors.”
As for showing the film on Good Friday, Budich didn’t stop in 2013.
Every year since he has repeated it, adding to the legal consequences hanging over him.
And every year it is getting a bit bigger.
“This year we hired out the biggest club in Bochum and after half an hour we had around 400 people watching. Next year it will be bigger still – and more provocative.”