Benjamin Jones, communications officer of the National Secular Society, discusses a worrying set of claims by the Director of LSE.
A paper published by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education has claimed that atheists can be “militant” on university campuses, while describing religion as a “public good” and the exclusion of religion from the public sphere as “repressive.”
Professor Craig Calhoun, Director of the London School of Economics, has said atheists make “free speech an issue” in efforts to “challenge the faith and beliefs of religious students”. He described “controversies over religious cartoons” as ‘disruptive to “campus harmony” and compared rows over free speech and blasphemy to ‘clashes’ between religions.
He’s the director of a university – a secular university – but he thinks it’s a bad thing to challenge the beliefs of religious students. It’s a truism, but all the same – universities are supposed to challenge the beliefs of students, especially secular universities. (Religious universities should, but that doesn’t mean they’re seen as having a duty to do that. It makes sense to expect some orthodoxy at a religious university.)
The Professor referred to his university’s outrageous censoring of students for wearing “Jesus and Mo” t-shirts as a “small episode” and said that “harmony was restored eventually but not without acrimony, accusations and threatened lawsuits.” Professor Calhoun fails to acknowledge that any friction was ultimately down to censorious student union officials ordering the removal of materials they deemed “offensive” and the threats of physical removal from LSE officials unless the students censored themselves.
The National Secular Society supported the students involved, Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis, back in 2013, after they were threatened with being physically removed from the LSE Freshers’ Fair unless they covered the ‘offensive’ t-shirts. At that time, Professor Calhoun said staff had “acted in good faith”.
Meaning they were “sincere”…but that’s not the issue.
In his paper, Calhoun seems extremely dismissive of secularism. He writes, “Attempts to exclude [religion] from the public sphere are intrinsically repressive.” He doesn’t seem to mind the LSE Student Union physically, literally excluding atheists, humanists and secularists from a literal public space though. His institution had to be threatened with legal action just to exact a modest “half-apology”, as the students in question described it.
Extending his analysis, the Professor compares secularism – and the concept that religion and the state should be separate (not that religious people may not fully participate in public life) – to exclusion and repression of Catholics.
So religious believers get the religious universities, and they get the secular ones too. Public religion is mandatory. You can have any color as long as it’s black (and wears a cross).