(Photo: Courtesy of Chris Moos)
Atheist students at the London School of Economics were forced to cover up their T-shirts depicting Jesus Christ and Mohammed earlier this month because the images were deemed offensive by the administration.
Chris Moos and Abishek Phadnis, both members of LSE's Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Student Society, wore T-shirts depicting the web comic "Jesus and Mo" during the student union's Freshers' Fair event that introduces new students to the groups that are available on campus.
According to Moos, he and Phadnis were confronted by campus officers and university staff, one of whom "started removing material from their stall," and were ordered to cover or remove their T-shirts – because officials said students had complained the T-shirts were "offensive," – or be "physically removed from the premises" for noncompliance.
The two students complied by covering their T-shirts with jackets and zipping them up, but were then told they weren't zipped high enough because the word "prophet" was still visible.
Moos told The Christian Post that despite repeated requests, the LSE administration and student union leadership haven't provided their organization with specifics as to which students or student groups complained about their T-shirts. However, they were told that by wearing the "Jesus and Mo" T-shirts, they might be in violation of the university's anti-harassment policy and the United Kingdom Equality Act 2010.
"We have been informed by the LSE that wearing our T-shirts might have been a possible breach of the LSE Disciplinary Procedures and Ethics Code, the LSE anti-harassment policy, as well as the United Kingdom Equality Act 2010," Moos explained.
Even though Moos said the university has not provided an explanation as to which parts of their T-shirts were deemed "offensive" and "harassing," and for what reasons, he told CP that in 2011 the LSE Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Student Society was told to removed the "Jesus and Mo" cartoons from its Facebook page because it was offensive to some students.
"In an unrelated incident in 2011, when 'Jesus and Mo' cartoons were posted on the society's Facebook page, we were informed that 'Muslim and non-Muslim students' had complained. Consequently, the Students' Union demanded at that time that we take down the posts, as in the words of the Student Union leadership, 'Muslims cannot look at pictures of Mohammed.'"
On the British Humanist Association website, Moos wrote that members of LSE's security and legal team told him and Phadnis that they were not behaving in an "orderly and responsible manner" and were knowingly creating an "offensive environment" by wearing the T-shirts on campus.
Moos added that since he and Phadnis were told on the first day of Freshers' Fair that their T-shirts were deemed offensive, they decided to wear them again on the second day, but used tape with the words "censored" and "nothing to see here" to cover the faces of "Jesus and Mo."
"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," wrote Moos, who alleges the response from the head of LSE security was that the two were "clearly deceitful."
Moos added that the students' right to free expression were being infringed upon because they were "expressing views that are not shared by others;" and are "still in shock" by the administration's reaction, since the students live in an "open and multicultural society [where] there can be no right to be offended without undermining freedom of expression."
Hemant Mehta, who writes the "Friendly Atheist" blog on Patheos.com, also commented on the incident and noted that LSE is "not a very welcome place for atheists who criticize aspects of Islam."
Last year, when the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society at the school voted to change their name to the Atheist Secularists Humanists and Ex-Muslims Society, the LSE said they couldn't do it because it would draw attention to ex-Muslims," Mehta explained. "So instead of punishing groups who might target the apostates, they punished the atheists who were welcoming them with open arms."