Reading University Atheist, Humanist, and Secularist Society have been removed from their Student Union’s freshers’ fayre after displaying a pineapple on their stand with the label ‘Mohammed’. The BHA has expressed concern at the ongoing and farcical curtailment of the free expression of students by some Student Unions.
The news comes the same day as news that the London School of Economics has finally resolved to take no action over a similar incident involving LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society which occurred in January.
The society explained that:
We spent several hours talking to other students and visitors, promoting the society and encouraging people to attend our forthcoming discussion on the topic “Should we respect religion?”
Among the material displayed on our stall was a pineapple. We labelled this pineapple “Mohammed”, to encourage discussion about blasphemy, religion, and liberty, as well as to celebrate the fact that we live in a country in which free speech is protected, and where it is lawful to call a pineapple by whatever name one chooses.
Towards the end of the afternoon, we were informed by a member of RUSU staff that there had been complaints about the pineapple, despite the fact that no complaints had been made at any point to anybody on the stall. Our commitment to freedom of expression meant that we refused to remove the pineapple from our stall. After a few minutes, we were told by another member of RUSU staff that “Either the pineapple goes, or you do”, whereupon they seized the pineapple and tried to leave. However, the pineapple was swiftly returned, and shortly was displayed again, with the name Mohammed changed to that of Jesus.
Shortly afterwards, the second RUSU staff member returned and ordered RAHS to leave the Freshers’ Fayre. At this point, a group of around five students, some of whom self-identified as Muslim, approached the stall and began to criticise us, asking and telling us to remove the pineapple. Though these students mainly engaged in discussion, one removed the label from the pineapple without our permission.
As the RUSU staff member merely raised his voice and shouted at the RAHS president when he attempted to explain our position, we were ultimately forced to leave the venue. However, several other societies at the Fayre offered to continue distributing our leaflets, and we continued to hand out leaflets outside the venue until we were again asked to leave by RUSU staff members, this time accompanied by RUSU security staff.
The RAHS believes in freedom of expression. Our intent in displaying a pineapple labelled “Mohammed” was to draw attention to cases where religion has been used to limit this and other fundamental rights, such as the imprisonment of Gillian Gibbons. We did not expect to be forced out of the Freshers’ Fayre because of a pineapple, and we are disappointed that RUSU took this action.
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘It is vitally important that people are able to criticise the beliefs of others, and this extends to simple satire of religious figures. This is especially true at Universities, where critical inquiry is at the core of their mission. Offence is not a reason to ban something from taking place, and it is a shame that after a string of similar incidents earlier this year, yet another situation of this nature has occurred at Reading, with Student Unions continuing to censor.’
For further comment or information, please contact Andrew Copson on 07855 380 633.
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.