Freedom of Expression

Atheists and secularists intimidated at LSE

There’s a good piece here by Ophelia Benson about the latest instalment in the Jesus and Mo saga.  This time it’s LSE Atheists, Secularists and Humanists who are being targeted by their Union.  Here is the Union’s statement:

On Monday 16th January it was brought to our attention via an official complaint by two students that the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society posted cartoons, published by the UCLU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society, depicting the Prophet Mohammed and Jesus “sitting in a pub having a pint” on their society Facebook page. Upon hearing this, the sabbaticals officers of the LSESU ensured all evidence was collected and an emergency meeting with a member of the Students’ Union staff was called to discuss how to deal with the issue. During this time, we received over 40 separate official complaints from the student body, in addition to further information regarding more posts on the society Facebook page.

It seems quite ridiculous to call an ’emergency meeting’ over such a cartoon.  The statement goes on:

It was decided that the President and other committee members of the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society would be called for an informal meeting to explain the situation, the complaints that had been made, and how the action of posting these cartoons was in breach of Students’ Union policy on inclusion and the society’s constitution.  This meeting took place on Friday 20th January at 10.30am. The society agreed to certain actions coming out of the meeting and these were discussed amongst the sabbatical team. In this discussion it was felt that though these actions were positive they would not fully address the concerns of those who had submitted complaints. Therefore the SU will now be telling the society that they cannot continue these activities under the brand of the SU.

The LSE Students’ Union would like to reiterate that we strongly condemn and stand against any form of racism and discrimination on campus. The offensive nature of the content on the Facebook page is not in accordance with our values of tolerance, diversity, and respect for all students regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or religious affiliation. There is a special need in a Students’ Union to balance freedom of speech and to ensure access to all aspects of the LSESU for all the ethnic and religious minority communities that make up the student body at the LSE.

There is no balance here. I know that some object to the term Islamophobia.  I don’t – but I completely agree with Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society:

We all want to protect individuals from being threatened or intimidated. This cartoon does neither. Conflating criticism or satire of Islam with persecution of Muslim people is crazy, but it is regrettably on the rise. We risk here introducing a form of blasphemy law that has proved so evil and lethal in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Here’s another well made point:

“There has been too much conflation recently of being offended and being intimidated, with the implication being that they are equivalent,” explained Jenny Bartle, president of the AHS. “Such an assumption is a potential threat to free speech and free debate, and we are concerned to address this underlying problem in the long term.”

In The Beaver Tasif Jaman complains that:

From my understanding, radical or militant atheists would like to eradicate religion from society.

If he is thinking of minaret bans, and restrictions on what people wear – then I’m not unsympathetic. But I think it’s also vital to note the violent threats, against himself and others, that Alex Gabriel reports on in section three of this post here.

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