Rory Fenton has a very apropos article at the Rationalist Association calling for non-religious students to resist the tide of religious privilege at universities.
What happens when you go to university? New stuff! New ideas, new people, new categories of ideas, new all sorts.
In the midst of this, many find themselves doubting or losing their religious beliefs. For them and for those who have never been religious, non-religious societies on campus, whether called “atheist”, “humanist”, “secular”, “freethinking”, “rationalist” or “ex-Muslim” (and non-religious groups can rival the gay rights movement for the sheer number of inclusive terms they use), can be a second home. At their best they are oases of free debate and discussion, challenging their members as well as the wider campus community to question dogma and speak up for reason.
But then that’s exactly why some people hate them, isn’t it. It’s also, depressingly, why some other people feel the need to support the people who are threatened by the questioning of dogma at the expense of the people questioning dogma. Last year at Reading University, for example.
It all started with a pineapple.
The pineapple in question was sat on the stall of Reading University’s Atheist Society. The pineapple was called “Mohammad”, as indicated by a sticker, and was there to promote an upcoming discussion on freedom of speech and blasphemy. Reading Students’ Union soon received complaints from Muslim students. Rather than defend their members’ rights to free speech, the union demanded the pineapple be removed. When Reading Atheists refused, they were kicked out of the Freshers Fair altogether. The union then updated their behavioural policy to forbid societies from causing “offence” to other students or even to members of the wider local community. The policy offers no definition of offence, creating in essence a blasphemy ban. The policy remains unchanged, forcing Reading Atheists to choose between signing the document and leaving the union altogether.
And, indeed, as I noted, the union has kicked Reading Atheists out of the union altogether.
The religious privileges that have censored atheist societies have also allowed religiously inspired bigotry to march on unheeded on UK campuses. Christian and Muslim societies regularly invite speakers with deeply homophobic and sexist views to their events, including those who have advocated the death penalty for homosexuals. Fortunately, the speakers are not permitted to air these views on campus, focusing instead on more general topics, but being invited to these universities lends them a perverse legitimacy.
It’s necessary to push back. Do what you can to help the student atheists, secularists and humanists.