MURDO MACLEOD AND MARTIN HANNAN
A CHURCH is trying to put one of Scotland's biggest tourist attractions out of business, claiming that it is spreading Satanism.
Churchgoers have officially objected to The Edinburgh Dungeon having its entertainment licence renewed on the grounds that many of its displays are offensive to Christians.
But it is not so much the severed heads or piles of corpses the congregation of the city's London Road Church has objected to - it is the 'Satan's Grotto'.
The kirk session of the church has complained about elves impaled on spikes, roasting robins and Father Christmas boiling in a witch's cauldron. Also under fire is children being asked whether they had been bad rather than good, offered 'nasty presents' instead of sweets and invited to take part in a 'yucky dip'.
The Christians claim the associations with evil are at least corrupting and at worst something that could lead to devil worship.
While churchgoers frequently take issue with events and displays which they find offensive it is rare for a church to take the step of making a formal objection to a licensing board or committee asking for an entertainment licence to be refused. The committee will consider the complaint on Friday when the Dungeon's licence comes up for its annual review.
The Rev William Armitage, minister at London Road Parish Church, said: "We were very offended that last Easter they were offering children spells. We thought that was in very poor taste at Easter time. We object to the trivialisation of the Easter message."
He added: "Obviously, we know that the organisers mean this as entertainment, but you can go too far. The way that evil is made out to be something positive is deeply troubling. Evil is something very powerful and should not be trivialised."
Malcolm Dickson, the session clerk at London Road, who wrote the letter of objection on behalf of the congregation, added: "We felt that it was time to make our voices heard. Their 'Santa display' twisted the whole meaning of Christmas. It is supposed to be about the birth of Christ and hope, not about evil.
"If this display had been aimed at any other religion it would have been closed down. People seem to think they can get away with this because it's Christianity.
"I don't know if our objection will succeed, but it was time to make our voices heard."
Andrew McDonald, the general manager of The Edinburgh Dungeon, said: "I'm surprised that there should be such an over-reaction to anything in the Dungeon.
"Exhibits such as the grotto are meant to be an alternative to the conventional Christmas, and it is entirely in keeping with the Dungeon.
"There is nothing which should be seen as a threat to anyone's morality or ethical standpoint.
"Frankly, with all the real horror going on in the world, I would have thought people would have more important things to care about rather than fictional horror."
On its website, The Dungeon advertises its fondness for "terror and torture, mutilation and mass murder, and persecution and pestilence". It promises scenes from the more terrible chapters of centuries of Scottish history that will envelop visitors "in all their grisly and gruesome detail". There are displays dedicated to the notorious Edinburgh bodysnatchers Burke and Hare, and cannibal Sawney Bean.
A spokeswoman for Edinburgh City Council confirmed that the authority had received the objection.
Under Britain's blasphemy laws, only the Christian faith is protected from ridicule, although in practice the law is seldom enforced.
Ministers intend to introduce a new law which will protect all religions from attacks, but this has led to criticism from advocates of free speech, and entertainers.
Last year a Birmingham theatre was forced to shelve a play because it caused offence to Sikhs.
Some 400 protesters stormed the venue and three police officers were hurt in clashes with demonstrators. The playwright received death threats over the play Behzti, which depicted rape and murder in a Sikh temple.
The new row is the second in which the Dungeon has become involved in the last month. In July, it was criticised for plans to give "ugly" people free entry. Visitors who wanted to save themselves the £10.95 entry fee had to take an "ugly test," comparing themselves with celebrities including former EastEnder Dean Gaffney and Big Brother contestant Jade Goody.