(Photo: Courtesy of Chris Moos)
The London School of Economics apologized Friday for previously censoring t-shirts worn by atheist students featuring cartoons of the prophet Muhammad and Jesus.
The school's director, Professor Craig Calhoun, said in a statement Friday that the school "got judgment wrong" when it told two student members of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society to cover up their cartooned t-shirts at an October welcome fair for freshmen, saying that the t-shirts showing Muhammad and Jesus violated the school's rules on harassment of a religious group.
Calhoun acknowledged that, "with hindsight, the wearing of the T-shirts on this occasion did not amount to harassment or contravene the law or LSE policies."
Calhoun explained to the two students: "Members of staff acted in good faith and sought to manage the competing interests of complainant students and yourselves in a way that they considered to be in the best interests of all parties on the days in question."
The two students who were forced to cover up their t-shirts, Chris Moos and Abishek Phadnis, filed an official complaint with the school after the incident in October, and Calhoun's recent apology is a result of the investigation conducted following the complaint. The students said in a statement to BBC that they hope their victory will serve as a "a resounding precedent for freedom of expression."
Prof Paul Kelly of the LSE told BBC Radio 4's Today that authorities at the school had to seek legal advice regarding the complaint because there were so many factors at play, including the country's Human Rights Act, the 2010 Equality act and the 1986 Universities Extension Act. "Each one of those laws is perhaps clear, but when they all come together we have to make judgments," he said. "This was always a grey area. So yes, I got the judgment wrong but it was a complex decision and it's important to make that clear."
The students have issued a statement saying that although they are pleased with the university's decision, they don't believe the issue was that complex. The students have also argued that although the school claimed they received complaints at the October fair from other students offended by the t-shirts, they have not provided any evidence of these alleged complaints. "You are judging us on something for which there is not evidence," Moos said in a statement, according to BBC.
"It was simply two students exercising their right to freedom of expression that they have as much as any other student who might wear religious symbols or t-shirts expressing their faith," he continued, adding, "it was extremely shocking that the LSE still tries to justify their decisions."