Attempt to Ban Mohammad Cartoon Sparks Global Debate

January 17, 2012
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When the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society of University College London used an image of Jesus and Mohammad sharing a pint on a Facebook event page, the organization probably didn’t expect to start a global debate over free speech. However, when the student union at University College London protested the use of the image, the atheist society refused, gaining support from secularists such as Richard Dawkins.

An online petition demanding free expression in support of the atheist society was signed by thousands of people, and the student union relented from their demand that the cartoon be removed. The atheist society declared a victory for free speech. From The Guardian:

In a statement on its Facebook page, the [atheist] society’s president, Robbie Yellon said: “University College London Union has recognised 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 recognise the swift response of the union, which certainly helped us reach this positive conclusion.”

Even though the student union is no longer pushing the issue, the atheist society may still face disciplinary action from the university. From The Guardian:

The atheist society said it would resist any disciplinary action. “Unfortunately, the union has considered the possibility that posting the image might have constituted an act of bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination,” it said. “We firmly believe in the protection of our fellow students through university and union policy; however we cannot accept such a suggestion.”

The society’s president, Robbie Yellon, said he believed disciplinary action was unlikely and dismissed the idea that the society could be guilty of bullying or harassment. “As far as I, and the society, is concerned, that’s an absolutely shocking accusation. If it does happen we will face it and do everything in our power to fight it.”

You can read The Guardian‘s coverage of the issue here, and their coverage of Dawkins’ support here.

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