‘…And we’ll burn your bloody house down!’

By skepticlawyer

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.


  1. Jacques Chester
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Considering the stuff I see in socialist posters, J&M is pretty weak sauce.

  2. Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    At the moment I’m watching casual threats of violence from young men with Muslim sounding names being directed at Rhys on various social media platforms.

    About the only consolation is that every single one of them would misspell ‘cat’.

    Any bombmakers among them will grow up to star in their own version of Four Lions.

    I’ve taken screenshots of the worst ones. I’m sure my friends at COPFS would be pleased to share them with their colleagues at the CPS.

  3. Patrick
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    the principal should have his head checked!

  4. paul walter
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Not entirely convinced, there seems a very fine line difference between nuanced satire and something that verges on incitement and hate speech. Not everyone has the finesse to “do it right” and the resulting turmoil occurs in the context of a society under pressure economically and splitting into competing communal factions.
    I’d hope for two things. One, that Mozzies over there get a bit less paranoid about “racism”, and that the role of satire is not coopted by Deep-South types, who can’t resist the temptation to troll, with incitement window-dressed as satire.
    People are actually getting physically hurt through the baiting and consequent over reaction, in riots and the like. Its only going to reinforce further breakdown of Brit society.
    There’ll, “Always be a Britain”, but what shape it will take in the future is becoming increasingly difficult to assess.
    People need to focus back on more more mundane but serious issues, currently ignored (after a glass of water, a couple of Bex and a bit of a lie-down)..but mayhaps that’s too much to be expected in the current overheated political climate.

  5. John H.
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    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.

    Only last night I watched a documentary on the Dover Intelligent Design case. Not only did some of the ID proponents commit perjury (one was referred for possible prosecution), but they were clearly trying to circumvent a previous legal ruling. To aid their cause, death threats were issued against various science teachers and after the case the judge (a Bush appointed conservative) had to go into hiding with his family because of death threats. After the case, Jerry Falwell stated that if calamity strikes Dover they should never ask for God’s help because they abandoned him.

  6. Alan
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Can the school legally suspend Rhys for his extra-curricular activities?
    In addition I would have thought that Rhys should been seen as an asset to his school.

  7. Movius
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Only 17 and he’s already been involved in 3 famous internet fights. That’s a fine effort.

  8. Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    PW, learn the difference between ‘incitement’ and ‘hate speech’.

    And in any case, all hate speech statutes should be repealed. They allow people to hide behind victim status and prevents them from being called on their behaviour.

  9. Mel
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    Disgusting stuff. Somewhat related, University Australia now recommends universities:

    “Embed Indigenous knowledges and perspectives in all university curricula … ”

    Just how far will our educators go with all this tip-toeing around cultural sensitivities crap, I wonder.

  10. paul walter
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    Ahh, Scepticlawyer. But you are trying to rob me of my figleaf?
    Now I will tend to my assignment.

  11. Jacques Chester
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    I suppose the rainbow serpent might be usable as a metaphor for a Turing machine’s tape.

  12. derrida derider
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Are you sure the school’s action wasn’t founded in CHRISTIAN objections? I’ve known Christian principals who would certainly see it as their job to stamp out blasphemy among students.

    But yeah, this sucks.

  13. Mel
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    [email protected]: “I presume the person who came up with this initiative was a humanities focused person …”

    No doubt. And I bet a lot of students with an indigenous heritage will cringe and sink low in their seats when some youthful arts graduate who has just done crash course in “indigenous knowledges and perspectives” foists upon their class some silly and romanticised lecture so that the uni may tick the compliance box.

  14. Posted January 19, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    LE @11
    Pretty much agree except that the study of indigenous trade pre colonisation is intriguing and worthy of some discussion in economics. Does a study of Aboriginal law help those lawyers whose clientel include many Aboriginal folk?

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