A university atheist society which caused controversy over its online use of a cartoon depicting Jesus and Muhammad, has declared a victory for freedom of speech after calls for its removal were dropped.
The University College London's Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society found itself at the centre of a storm of controversy last week, when it refused to remove the ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoon from a Facebook page.
University College London’s student union requested that the society remove the cartoon, as it was offensive to Muslims and Christians, leading to an online petition in favour of keeping the one-panel drawing.
The petition garnered high-profile support from outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins who left a comment saying: "Jesus and Mo cartoons are wonderfully funny and true. They could offend only those actively seeking to be offended – which says it all."
A spokesman for University College London's student union, which has a duty to ensure students were not harassed because of their religion, said the request to remove the cartoon remained in place, but that decisions regarding advertising for events remained at the discretion of individual societies.
A spokesman said: "Society presidents take responsibility for their own publicity, and it is not vetted by UCLU prior to distribution. They are provided with equality training prior to running a society, to help them understand the balance between freedom of expression and cultural sensitivity."
But the atheist society has taken the move as a victory and thanked the more than 3000 supporters who signed its petition.
The atheist society used the title page from a satirical comic book, Jesus and Mo, by a British cartoonist called Mohammed Jones, to advertise a social event. It depicts Jesus and Muhammad sharing a pint of beer.
The Jesus and Mo cartoons depict the two characters in a crudely drawn manner, and poke fun at different aspects of religious belief. Under Islamic law it is strictly forbidden to represent the prophet pictorially.
Complaints from students led to advise from the students union that it would be "prudent" to take the cartoon down. This in turn led to claims of censorship from the society, which launched a petition.
January 16th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Simon Cross