This Sceptered Isle slides further into the shitter, alas: I can do no better than reproduce much of this excellent post from a British blog (it provides important context and background). The difference here is that I know the young man in question, and am young enough (just) to remember what school bullying felt like. Not bullying like this, though.
Rhys Morgan hit the headlines a few weeks ago due to his work in publicising Stanislaw Burzynski‘s fradulent alternative medicine practices. I hold him in some high regard as, at his age, I wasn’t too heavily involved in skepticism (although a friend of mine was, and was partially the reason why I later became active in the atheist movement).
Also in the news was a dispute between University College London and their atheist society, after an image from the webcomic Jesus and Mo was used to promote one of their facebook event. Obviously, this caused Muslims on campus to complain about the offensiveness of the image. It’s nothing new; Leeds Atheist Society was forced to cancel a showing and debate of the controversial film Fitna back in 2009 for the same reason.
The skeptic and atheist community is no stranger to threats to their freedom of speech: Simon Singh got sued by the British Chiropractic Association after he called their claims that chiropractic could help ill children “bogus”. In 2005, the Christian Party protested BBC screenings of Jerry Springer: The Opera, people from Jyllands-Posten to South Park Studios have been censored and attacked for daring to show images of Muhammad. This extends to actual legislation: critics of Scientology and other religions have been arrested for using “insulting” language as defined in the Public Order Act 1986, which is why Peter Tatchell (one of my favourite people) and the British Humanist Association would like that provision stripped.
This is where the two are linked: UCL’s student union asked the society to take it down, and refused on the grounds that it was an infringement of freedom of speech: of course, there is an Islamic prohibition on images of Muhammad, but it doesn’t and shouldn’t apply to non-Muslims. It’s like banning people from saying “God dammit”: taking the Lord’s name in vain, is of course, a massive sin. They publicised this dispute and got support from Richard Dawkins and all three major secular societies in the UK (the British Humanist Association, the National Secular Society, and the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist, and Secular Student Societies).
They also got solidarity from Morgan, who used the image as his profile picture for a week or so. He describes the intolerant behaviour he experienced on his blog, to the point that he was denounced as no better than Hitler and people threatened to burn his house down and assault him.
I was unaware of Rhys’s actions until I woke up this morning and found he had tweeted that he had been called into a meeting with his head of year at his sixth form college, about the Jesus and Mo cartoon. He reports being harassed at school and being ostracized for posting the cartoon. He was later called in again to be told that they were considering expelling him if he didn’t take the cartoon down.
What’s that gag about history always happening twice, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce? Except that this isn’t funny, and Britain can bloody well do better.