London Atheists Claim Victory in Jesus-Muhammad Cartoon Row

A group of atheists at University College London, which posted a cartoon of Jesus and Muhammad with what look like glasses of beer on its Facebook page, is claiming that the student union has withdrawn its call to remove the cartoon.

The University College London Union “can no longer call on us to withdraw the image,” says Robbie Yellon, the president of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society, on the society’s Facebook page.

The image is taken from “Jesus & Mo,” a satirical British webcomic created by an artist using the pseudonym Mohammed Jones, and shows Jesus and Muhammad with a drink that looks like beer. The atheist society posted the image on its Facebook page as an advertisement for a social event about a week ago. The student union requested it to remove the image last Tuesday, citing complaints from students.

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The society refused to withdraw the image and instead gathered nearly 3,000 signatures last week in support of the “freedom of expression.” The signatories include Richard Dawkins, a well-known British secularist, evolutionary biologist and author. With his signature on the campaign letter, Dawkins wrote, “Jesus and Mo cartoons are wonderfully funny and true. They could offend only those actively seeking to be offended – which says it all.”

The atheist society also received support from the British Humanist Association; the National Secular Society; the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies; and the New Humanist magazine.

The union has recognized “that mistakes were made and that the initial correspondence with our society was flawed,” the society’s president claimed. “The union is to review its stance on such matters and has said that this will not happen again.”

However, a spokesman for the union told The Guardian the request to remove the cartoon remained in place, but individual societies could decide regarding advertising for events as per their own discretion. “Society presidents take responsibility for their own publicity, and it is not vetted by UCLU prior to distribution,” the union said. “They are provided with equality training prior to running a society, to help them understand the balance between freedom of expression and cultural sensitivity.”

The union also said the atheist society had agreed to show more consideration about how it advertised social events, but disciplinary action could not be ruled out because of the union’s procedure. The society, it hinted, could even face forced resignation of committee members, or disaffiliation from the union.

Yellon is ready to fight it. “As far as I, and the society, is concerned, that’s an absolutely shocking accusation. If it does happen we will face it and do everything in our power to fight it.”

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