An atheist group at Reading University in England was thrown out of a freshman gathering for displaying a pineapple they had named Mohammed to make a point about both blasphemy laws and the absurd notion that religious beliefs should have special protection from criticism and insult.
The Reading University Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Society (RAHS) said they wanted to celebrate free speech and promote their upcoming debate ‘Should we respect religion?’
But they were ordered to remove the offending fruit by union staff who said their actions were causing ‘upset and distress’ to a number of Muslim students and other societies.
RAHS refused, citing that they had labelled the pineapple after the Islamic prophet to ‘encourage discussion about blasphemy, religion, and liberty’.
The response from the student union was downright Orwellian:
In a statement given to Student Rights, RUSU said: ‘The RAHS were asked to leave the Freshers’ Fayre after receiving complaints from individual students about a display they had on their stall.
‘They were initially asked to remove the display and after refusal were asked to leave. Our Freshers’ Fayre is an inclusive event for all students.
‘As the society’s actions were causing upset and distress to a number of individual students and other societies attending we took the decision to ask them to leave.’
Yes, of course. It’s an “inclusive event for all students” — unless you express a viewpoint that another student might be upset about. Well, at least some of the time. If the atheist students had said that they were upset and distressed by a Christian or Muslim group, it’s highly unlikely that the religious groups would have been asked to leave.
There are few ideas that irritate me as much as the idea that we must “respect” someone else’s religious beliefs. What does “respect” even mean in that sentence? If it means support their right to hold and express them, then of course it’s true. But that isn’t how it’s ever actually used.