The Lawyers’ Secular Society is deeply concerned at the approach taken by the London School of Economics Student Union to free expression last week.
On Thursday 3 October students from the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Student Society (ASH) were told they would be physically removed from the annual Freshers’ Fair unless they covered up T-shirts which were deemed to be “offensive”.
Student Union officials removed materials from the ASH stand and demanded that the group remove their “Jesus and Mo” T-shirts. The group eventually complied by covering up their T-shirts but were closely followed by security guards for the rest of the day.
Commenting on the controversy Charlie Klendjian, Secretary of the LSS, said:
“It’s at moments like this when secularists literally don’t know whether to laugh or cry. If the right to free expression doesn’t allow university students in a 21st century democracy to wear a Jesus and Mo T-shirt then frankly I’m not really sure what it does allow anymore.
“As always, events such as this raise more questions than they provide answers.
“For example, why were the figures on the T-shirt deemed to be offensive? Or perhaps it was just one of the figures? Was it Jesus or Mo that was considered offensive? If it was Jesus should we now remove all depictions of Him?
“If it was Mo, are we now to assume that all Muslims took offence at this on the basis all Muslims must – presumably – hold identical beliefs? That doesn’t sound very “diverse”. What if a Muslim wanted to wear the T-shirt?
“Or perhaps it was because the figures were depicted together? But surely there is an argument that the T-shirt represents an inspiring example of interfaith cohesion?
“In any case, the question to ask is not, “Was the T-shirt offensive?” The question to ask is, “Does the right to free expression include the right to offend?” And the answer to that is a deafening yes, because without the right to cause offence free expression, and free speech, is utterly useless. Humans don’t need a right to agree with each other; they need a right to disagree.
“Dare anyone answer these questions? More to the point, dare anyone even ask them?
“The LSS hereby gives Abhishek Phadnis and Chris Moos of the ASH our unequivocal support, and we thank them for putting up at least some resistance to campus blasphemy regulations. The LSS will be watching events closely and we would strongly urge anyone who values free expression to publicly support the ASH students and to publicly condemn the pathetic, hyper-sensitive actions of the Student Union.”
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