|The Jesus & Mo image used on the society's Facebook page|
The image is taken from Jesus & Mo, a well-known web comic that depicts the title characters engaging in theological and philosophical chats while propping up a pub bar. Consistently amusing, frequently thought-provoking and often heart-warming, Jesus & Mo is anything but savage and crass, with its gentle take on the absurdity of theological differences and underlying message that humans really ought to just get along providing the perfect antidote to the violent and illiberal censorship it aims to satirise.
It would, therefore, be somewhat ironic for someone to demand the censorship Jesus & Mo on the grounds that it is offensive, but that's precisely the mistake UCL's student union have made in response to the atheist society's Facebook page. Citing a "number of complaints" regarding both the depiction of Muhammad and the fact that the image shows him with a drink that looks like beer, the union contacted the ASHS president demanding that he removed the image as soon as possible.
Having given a talk and chaired a debate on offence and censorship with the ASHS a few months ago, I know that they're a clever and inquisitive bunch who have thought long and hard about these issues, so I'm not surprised to learn that they're taking a stand against the union's attempted censorship. Pointing out that UCL was the first university in Britain to be founded on secular principles, the ASHS have refused to remove the Jesus & Mo image and have launched an online petition to defend free expression at the university. The petition, which you can sign, includes the following statement:
"In response to complaints from a number of students, the University College London Union has insisted that the UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society remove the following image from a Facebook event advertising a pub social. It has done so on the grounds that it may cause offence to Muslim students.
This is a gross infringement on its representatives' right to freedom of expression taken by members of the first secular university in England. All people are free to be offended by any image they view. This does not give them the right to impose their beliefs on others by censoring such images.
We the undersigned urge the University College London Union to immediately halt their attempts to censor the UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society and uphold its members' right to freedom of expression."