Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Threats to atheist student societies

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Student newspaper the National Student reports that atheist societies at Leeds and Southampton universities have been faced with violent threats, vandalism, and student union opposition towards their events, with one student receiving a face-to-face death threat during Leeds University Atheist Society's "Rationalist Week '09", which was held back in April. The same event was also subject to vandalism.

At Southampton, the Atheist Society have just managed to host a debate on the limits of free speech, following months of opposition from the university Muslim Society, which objected to the atheists' plan to show Geert Wilders' film Fitna as part of the event. They claimed the Atheist Society planned to stir up religious hatred, while the society insisted that it was intended as a means of stimulating a debate around free speech. The debate eventually went ahead at the end of April, but only on the condition that the society hired secuirty guards and that there was a police presence at the event.

The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies was established last year to provide national support to societies, and their press office Chloƫ Clifford-Frith told the National Student:
“Student Unions may feel pressured to automatically side with religious groups because of the current trend, and religious groups are increasingly demanding immunity from having their ideas discussed. It should be noted that in both incidents neither of the Muslim Societies were actually even being targeted for criticism.”
The influence of religious student groups is something I've been aware of since I was at university a few years ago. At my university there was a large Christian society which appeared to enjoy a good deal of influence, and it certainly leaned towards the fundamentalist end of the scale. Honestly, I'd never met a born-again Christian, let alone a creationist, until I arrived at university, and suddenly I'd met loads. Of course, this is just my observation – whether or not religious student groups do enjoy added influence and privileges is an open question, but it's one that certainly seems worth looking into.

[Found via MediaWatchWatch]


Gig said...

"At Southampton, [...] following months of opposition from the university Muslim Society [...] They claimed the Atheist Society planned to stir up religious hatred [...]"
Are these muslim societies truly unaware that their actions are probably the cause of any religious hatred going around or is it part of a larger plan? Do they consider us all idiots?
Their actions, far from invoking a feeling of respect are at the root of the problem.