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Jan 17 2012

UK student threatened with expulsion over Mohammed cartoon

You may already be familiar with 17-year-old Rhys Morgan. In 2010 he received the James Randi Award for Grassroots Skepticism for outing the scam drug “Miracle Mineral Supplement.” More recently, he received numerous legal threats from the odious Burzynski clinic for shedding light on their unscientific and unethical practices.

Did I mention this badass is 17? If I were a university, I’d be trying to snatch him up. Not every teenager is so involved with skepticism and activism, and he has a bright future ahead of him.

But apparently his school doesn’t think so. You see, not all of Rhys’s activism is about exposing medical scams. Why, he had the audacity to put up this horrible image as his Facebook profile photo:

He chose that photo to stand in solidarity with the University College London’s Atheist, Secular, and Humanist Society. The group was caught in a firestorm after someone complained about the image being used to promote their pub social and school officials ordered them to take it down.

But now Rhys is stuck in a firestorm of his own. Because that image from the comic Jesus and Mo was his Facebook photo for a week, he has been harassed and threatened at school by his classmates. He was then summoned by his head of year and told to remove the cartoon. When he said no, he was threatened with expulsion.

I’m no expert on laws related to freedom of speech in the UK, so I can’t predict what will happen to Rhys. But what I can say is that this sort of treatment is wrong. Religious people should not be allowed to force their beliefs onto others, and that’s exactly what’s happening in this situation. Muslims can abstain from posting photos of Mohammed all they want, but they can’t force non-Muslims to do the same. Just like they can abstain from eating pork without totally banning pork from the school cafeteria. Disagreeing with religious ideas is not equivalent to a “hate crime,” and equating the two is a dangerous mindset indeed.

I’m not sure what we can do, but at the very least you can let Rhys know that you support him at his blog or over twitter.

UPDATE: Maryam Namazie asked Rhys for an update, and got the following reply:

“Unfortunately, given the extreme situation, I’ve removed the image in question. They thanked me for being “co-operative”, even though the reason I did it was purely selfish – not being expelled. They didn’t actually state whether I was going to be, but based on their wording, it’s obvious that is what they were threatening.”

The religious bullies win again, though I totally sympathize with Rhys’s personal decision.

41 comments

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  1. 1
    peterh

    Color me innocent, but does anyone really know what the “prophet” Mohammed looked like? I have an Uncle Mo and he looks nothing like either figure in the cartoon. I say “either,” because I’m almost completely certain nobody knows what Jesus looked like. So the Mo in question conceivably could be either figure in the cartoon. YMMV

  2. 2
    Epinephrine

    Besides, the Mo in the cartoon is actually a body double. So, nobody is representing Mohammed in the first place :P

  3. 3
    Drakk

    In Islam it is forbidden to create a depiction of Muhammad. I haven’t read the koran enough to know the specifics, but as far as I know you can’t draw something and say “This is Muhammad” because it’ll hurt feelings.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with hurting feelings when it’s based on something like this.

  4. 4
    Albatross

    This is my drawing of the prophet Mohammed –> .

    He is very far away.

  5. 5
    Kevin

    It’s my understanding that the prohibition applies only to Muslims. Can it possibly be that those involved don’t understand the religion? That they’re just jerking their knee because that’s what knee-jerkers do?

  6. 6
    Ophelia Benson

    I’ve been doing the letting Rhys know thing for a couple of hours. (Well, not steadily – that would be cruel!)

    I get to meet him at QED in Manchester in a couple of months.

  7. 7
    Jurjen S.

    It seems to me that what a student does outside school hours and off school property is exactly none of the school’s fucking business.

  8. 8
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    Perhaps we could send protest letters to the administrators at the school?

  9. 9
    Gareth

    It’s not just that it happened away from school. As I understand it, some people threatening him are his own classmates. But rather than protecting him from them, the school seems to be blaming him for the actions and words of the intolerant bigots.

    This actually makes me ashamed to have come up through the Welsh school system. I honestly can’t imagine anything like this happening in my school. It’s shocking.

    While I normally disapprove, in this case, as with Jessica Ahlquist in the US, it’s tempting to say that a lawsuit would be appropriate. Threatening a child (legally, anyway. He’s obviously far more mature than his 17 years would indicate) with expulsion after being threatened by fellow students is outrageous.

  10. 10
    Jason

    Well I know what my new Facebook profile picture is going to be

  11. 11
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    I like this idea.

  12. 12
    elronxenu

    Yes. It is time to cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war.

    Rhys’ Facebook photo is none of the school’s business if it is not bringing the school directly into disrepute. Their reaction to him was inappropriate and misguided – they should have been punishing those students who threatened and harassed Rhys.

    The school could have used this as an opportunity to teach the value of free speech. But they don’t understand that value and the Net is now going to teach _them_.

  13. 13
    MichaelD

    Well this week is doing little to change my view that most of the loudest muslims are coddled children and school yard bullies that never grew up and matured.

  14. 14
    Jennifer

    I also like this idea – if anyone can find the contact details for the school, I definitely want to write to them to express my disappointment. The UK is meant to be better than this bullshit. -_-

  15. 15
    Rafiq Mahmood

    The ONLY reason depictions of prophets are banned in Islam is in case they might get worshipped as icons. It is highly unlikely that Jesus and Mo, or any other lampoon, would be worshipped so what’s the big deal?

    Actually there are depictions of Muhammad all over the place, in mosques and houses and everywhere, and they are indeed worshipped as equal partners of Allah who are also depicted. The only thing is that the depictions are calligraphic.

  16. 16
    peterh

    It would follow, then, that merely saying “This is Mohammed” (indicates a Rorschach blot) could ignite WW III? I mean, all due respect for another’s feelings and all of that Mary Poppins/Julie Andrews stuff – but is it truly possible to be that flabbergastingly dim in the dome? I’m just saying . . . .

  17. 17
    peterh

    Then the US is not the only place the inmates are seeking control of the asylum?

  18. 18
    kurthutchison

    We can’t even depict Jesus as Jewish looking in THIS country, let alone get a decently accurate description of him from any historical text or depiction. Mohammed is a complete mystery to even the people who follow his teachings. Fear of some extremist dumbass declaring Jihad on your school is a legitimate concern in the same way a doctor should be concerned about being murdered for adding abortions to the list of procedures he’s willing to perform, albeit anyone rendering an image of Mohammed in a humorous or non humorous way is less critical to anyones rights or health. That being said, the school is going to be little less than brave about backing a student who does so, don’t you think? I’m sure the student was pretty aware of what the reaction might be, unless clueless for some reason.

  19. 19
    Eric RoM

    And in other ridiculous news:

    http://dailycaller.com/2012/01/16/poland-slaps-fine-on-singer-for-bashing-bible/

  20. 20
    LaPlace

    Maybe Rhys should do what South Park did when they could not show Mohammed on TV.

  21. 21
    Jeffrey

    Am I the only member of a mainstream religion who understands that it is not my place to tell other people how to behave, or draw, unless there is a physical danger to another person, their (inanimate) property or the threat of it? Sometimes it feels that way, especially in this case and the Jessica Ahlquist case.

  22. 22
    marcmielke

    Isn’t the guy we generally call ‘Jesus’ supposedly Cesare Borgia?

  23. 23
    Jaime

    I believe that the actual reason is some silly nonsense about how people will naturally want to worship an image of Mohammed (rather than Allah Himself, presumably).
    Of course, if someone feels inclined to worship a Jesus and Mo cartoon, I guess that’s their own prerogative…

  24. 24
    evilDoug

    I rather like the calligraphic depiction of Mo at Wikipedia
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad
    It looks to me like a stick man in high-steppin’ dance!

  25. 25
    crowepps

    Site with painting of Cesare Borgia and many renaissance paintings in which Jesus Christ is his doppelganger.

    http://www.curehomophobia.com/image.html

    It must be nice to be the Pope — anything you want you get.

  26. 26
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    “What were you thinking going to a party in that skirt?”

    Asshole.

  27. 27
    piero

    LOL!

  28. 28
    embertine

    Contact details for the school, I think:

    [email protected]

    This is the head teacher of Cardiff High School, which is where Rhys says he goes to school on his Google profile.

    Steve Jones is his name and his email address is the main contact for the school.

  29. 29
    Mike

    From Rhys’s blog, Naomi Mc’s fab comment “…if only they realised how important freedom of expression was to freedom of religion…” has made my day!
    Good work, Rhys, keep it up.

  30. 30
    Rumtopf

    Pixel Mo is the best Mo :D

  31. 31
    Steve Bowen

    It doesn’t sound as though the school was explicit in its threat to expell Rhys, at least on the basis of his twitter posts. If anyone is intending mailing the school, I would suggest treading softly.
    On the general principle though…what someone posts on their private facebook page is none of the school’s business insofar as it doesn’t directly associate them with the opinions.

  32. 32
    jolo5309

    I did that last night, and as an explanation I linked to this article.

  33. 33
    LTFT

    How confident is the blaghag readership that the school is in the wrong?

    Definite demerits to the school for (at the least) making Rhys feel like he was targetted because of what he posted to his facebook page. No matter what, this is unacceptable. And major demerits if they threatened him with expulsion based on what he posted.

    But reading Rhys’ twitter feed… It appears that the school did not explicitly threaten to expel Rhys for his posts. More than that, Rhys’ posts suggest that the school considered their response based at least in part on his safety (one post suggests they may have wanted to suspend him because they couldn’t guarantee his safety). Further, Rhys mentions that the school is also targetting the individuals who threatened Rhys. Finally, Rhys does not provide his responses to the individuals threatening him (Rhys’ blog makes it look like there was a considerable back-and-forth).

    I’m having trouble getting too upset about hearing half of one side of the story.

  34. 34
    LTFT

    Just went back to Rhys’ twitter feed for the first time since last night and I saw this:

    “Update from the school: They apparently weren’t threatening to expel or suspend me, just send me home for my own safety.”

    I don’t think we should take the school’s word on that, but this kerfluffle may be much ado about nothing.

  35. 35
    Matt Penfold

    Or unless the content is intended to bully, harass or intimidate staff or students at the school.

  36. 36
    Ilaria

    and that’s my profile picture too :)

  37. 37
    mudpuddles

    @ Steve Bowen #19

    On the general principle though…what someone posts on their private facebook page is none of the school’s business insofar as it doesn’t directly associate them with the opinions.

    Absolutely right. You cannot be expelled from school or fired from work or even asked to quit your local gym simply for posting an image on facebook. Even if that image specifically targetted an individual or made an obscene comment about someone or displayed hardcore pornography, the only legitimate response for the offended would be to request the image be removed, or otherwise initiate due process towards disciplinary action if they felt it was warranted.

    If it was considered that the image brought an insitution into disrepute through no fault of its own (e.g. if Rhys’s image had claimed “my school sucks because all the staff are unqualified and sometimes beat kids”), or if it clearly defamed or slandered an individual (or group of specific individuals, e.g. “all maths teachers in the school”, or “these five Muslims”) then disciplinary action could be initiated – but a reactionary threat of “take it down or be expelled” would be meaningless, since that action would be in breach of European Union law.

    Expulsion could potentially result if due process revealed that Rhys was indeed defaming or harming an institution or individual. But displaying a “clean” (non-porn, non-defamatory, non-privacy-breaching, non-racist) cartoon graphic on a private facebook page, an image which targets no named living person or organisation for ridicule or contempt, is absolutely not legitimate grounds for any threat of expulsion, suspension or any other disciplinary action. And none of the school’s business.

  38. 38
    Ben Finney

    Ridiculous! Next you’ll be trying to convince us that some fervent Christians don’t know what’s in their holy book, or that global warming deniers haven’t examined the evidence.

  39. 39
    History Goy

    Actually, both the Quran and the Bible prohibit all graven images. Gold and silver images are expressly forbidden.

    The biggest offender is the Catholic cult which collects money and instead of giving it to the poor as Jesus commands, builds graven images of gold which God the Father forbids.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iconoclasm

    There’s also rules in the Bible against swearing by God or by the Word of God. Most courts in the US have been in violation for a century.

    But the average ‘Christian’ hasn’t even read their Bible and has no idea what’s in it.

  40. 40
    Doodie

    The crazy this is that the Danish cartoon has become reality. Over 5 turban bombs in the last 10 months. All done in the name of the prophet Mohammad. I don’t understand why Muslims are angry. This is reality.
    Check it out:
    http://wp.me/px8iE-1u1

  41. 41
    PHILLIP

    There is a resurrection happening as I type, the control of this media is apparent, and the idolizing of young Zionist is overt, and in seeing this the resurrection is expedited, what real good have you done lately?

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