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Student atheists’ ‘offensive’ ‘Jesus and Mo’ T-shirts spark bitter freshers’ fair row

‘Censored’: Abishek Phadnis and Chris Moos with the shirts

Published: 10 October, 2013
by WILLIAM McLENNAN
Email: william@westendextra.com

A BITTER row over freedom of expression has broken out at the London School of Economics after students were told to remove T-shirts depicting Jesus and Muhammad.

Two members of the university’s atheist society were told that their attire, which bore images from the satirical online comic Jesus and Mo, must be removed at a students’ “freshers’ fair” in Holborn.

Members of LSE Students’ Union told Abishek Phadnis and Chris Moos that their T-shirts were “offensive” and they faced being physically ejected if they did not cover up.

They said: “Our right to free expression and participation in the LSE student community is being curtailed for no other reason than that we are expressing views that are not shared by others.”

But the students’ union said the T-shirts were “in danger of eroding good campus relations” and asked for them to be covered up “in the interests of good campus relations”.

Professor Richard Dawkins, the outspoken author of The God Delusion, backed the two students this week and described the union officials as “sanctimonious little prigs”.

He tweeted: “I’m ‘offended’ by backwards baseball caps, chewing gum, niqabs, ‘basically’ and ‘awesome’. Quick, LSE student union, ban them all.”

University officials at the event on Thursday, where societies set out their stalls to attract new members, said the two were not behaving in an “orderly and responsible manner” and the images could be seen as “harassment”, before they agreed to put on jackets.

The pair issued a written statement in which they said: “We asked what exactly was ‘offensive’ about the T-shirts, and how the display of a non-violent and non-racist comic strip could be considered ‘harassment’ of other students.

“We reject in the strongest possible terms that by wearing a non-violent, non-racist T-shirt we would harass other students or create an ‘offensive environment’”.

Jay Stoll, the students’ union general secretary issued a statement on behalf of the university and the union, which said: “Two students from the LSE SU Atheist Secularist and Humanist Society (ASH) wore T-shirts that were clearly designed to depict Muhammed and Jesus in a provocative manner. The students’ union, which runs the event, received a number of complaints from other students. LSE is committed to promoting freedom of expression and is known for its public events and wide range of speakers. In this instance, it was judged that the actions of the students were undermining what should have been a welcoming and inclusive event.”

The students’ union has subsequently expressed concern over the “nature of some of the social media debate, which has been highly personalised”.

Students are expected to turn up wearing the now controversial T-shirts to a debate at the LSE next week about the niqab, or face veil, that is worn by some Muslim women.

Maryam Namazie, from the secular Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, said she will be wearing the T-shirt when she speaks at the event next Tuesday and urged the audience to follow her lead.

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