A little while ago University College London, Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society used an image from the Jesus and Mo cartoons (http://www.jesusandmo.net/) to promote one of their meetings. They got into trouble with the University authorities when someone complained it was offensive.
To show his solidarity with the University College London, Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society a young man called Rhys Morgan changed his Facebook profile picture to the picture above for about a week. He then changed it to something else and got on with his life (probably blogging, going to school and irritating dubious suppliers of unproven medical treatments, and not necessarily in that order).
A little while later Rhys received a complaint from someone on Facebook asking him to remove the image as it was offensive. Rhys, being an advocate of free speech declined. The other person then posted it on his Facebook page to show how offensive this and Rhys were. At this point things got a whole lot worse, he started to receive threats. He was called a racist, his house would be burnt down, he would be beaten up. Today he was threatened with suspension or expulsion from his school if he didn’t delete the image, so he finally did as the bullies had demanded and deleted the image.
I did a little survey of my friends on Facebook, not scientific or particularly broad. None of them felt it was offensive. I actually removed the title and just posted the picture. A good number of them said it looked like two friends have a chat. Some realised what it was, and who the pictures were supposed to be, and they felt it promoted peace and friendship between different faiths (I particularly like this interpretation). I can understand why some people might find the idea of their holy men being pictured in a Pub, especially where drinking alcohol is forbidden. I can understand the need to have limits on what is posted online, we would all find an image of child porn, even a cartoon of it, offensive. I do not see this specific image as offensive, or, feel that I have the right to demand it’s removal from someone else’s site or Facebook.
What I do not agree with is the action of the school. Although they have said they would deal with the pupils making threats, they asked Rhys to remove this image because people found it offensive. He was having abuse and threats shouted at him at school. Maybe a discussion with Rhys that removing it was a good idea for his own safety, maybe they should use him as a role model for critical thinking, research and freedom of speech. Does a school have the right to demand a pupil removes something from the internet that is not illegal and not directly bringing the school into disrepute?
Rhys’s own blog is found here.