Earlier last week, the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASHS) at University College London became involved in a fight over censorship for including a picture from the webcomic, “Jesus and Mo” on their Facebook page for an event.
It was an event for their weekly drinks social.
For those of you who have never read Jesus and Mo, it’s a webcomic that deals with religious satire where the title characters engage in theological and philosophical discussion, usually in a bar. As far as “offensive” goes, I would rank it on the low end of the scale, but the ASHS has had to deal with several complaints alluding to the depiction of the prophet Muhammad and the possibility that the drink he is holding might be something containing alcohol.
The student union of University College London contacted the president of the ASHS and demanded that he remove the image from the page.
Rightly so, ASHS decided not to remove the image. They also stood up against their student union. They launched an online petition last week, and managed to rake up 3700+ signatures, including that of Richard Dawkins.
From their Facebook group page, the president of the group released this statement:
We can now tell you that the University College London Union has recognized that mistakes were made and that the initial correspondence with our society was flawed. The Union is to review its stance on such matters and has said that this will not happen again. They can no longer call on us to withdraw the image. We welcome these developments, which set an important precedent for other universities. We also feel it appropriate to recognize the swift response of the Union, which certainly helped us reach this positive conclusion.Unfortunately, the Union has considered the possibility that posting the image might have constituted an act of bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination. We firmly believe in the protection of our fellow students through University and Union policy; however we cannot accept such a suggestion. They have also considered the force of our actions and unwillingness to concede. As such, the society may be risking a disciplinary hearing which could lead to the forced resignation of committee members, or disaffiliation from the Union. In light of our now constructive relationship with the Union, such an event seems unlikely, though we would ask for your support should it ever occur.
I’m glad to see that they’ve made progress with their case, but it doesn’t seem like they’re quite out of the clear. The backlash from Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association (AMSA) hasn’t been the friendliest. Their treasurer declared:
It is not for Atheists to decide what will or will not offend believers of different religions.
It’ll be up to the student union as to what happens from here, but the cartoon they used for their event seems to me to be one of the least offensive images they could have used.