Thursday, 4 October 2012

Student society ejected from Freshers' Fair for naming a pineapple 'Muhammad'

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A pineapple with no name
The controversial issue of blasphemy and Muhammad has taken one of its more surreal turns as a student atheist group were ejected from their university Freshers Fair for naming a pineapple after the Prophet.

According to a statement, the Reading University Atheist, Humanist, and Secularist Society (RAHS) were running a stall at the annual event for new students when a representative of the university student union (RUSU) came forward to complain about what was on display:
"Among the material displayed on our stall was a pineapple. We labelled this pineapple 'Mohammed', to encourage discussion about blasphemy, religion, and liberty, as well as to celebrate the fact that we live in a country in which free speech is protected, and where it is lawful to call a pineapple by whatever name one chooses.

Towards the end of the afternoon, we were informed by a member of RUSU staff that there had been complaints about the pineapple, despite the fact that no complaints had been made at any point to anybody on the stall. Our commitment to freedom of expression meant that we refused to remove the pineapple from our stall. After a few minutes, we were told by another member of RUSU staff that 'Either the pineapple goes, or you do', whereupon they seized the pineapple and tried to leave. However, the pineapple was swiftly returned, and shortly was displayed again, with the name Mohammed changed to that of Jesus."
Shortly afterwards, the atheist society were asked to leave the event. An argument broke our between members of the society and "a group of around five students, some of whom self-identified as Muslim" and, while the statement says that "these students mainly engaged in discussion", one of them "removed the label from the pineapple without our permission".

The society were "ultimately forced to leave the venue", and they have now stated that they believe the incident violated their right to free expression within their univeristy:
"The RAHS believes in freedom of expression. Our intent in displaying a pineapple labelled 'Mohammed' was to draw attention to cases where religion has been used to limit this and other fundamental rights, such as the imprisonment of Gillian Gibbons. We did not expect to be forced out of the Freshers' Fayre because of a pineapple, and we are disappointed that RUSU took this action."
It would be interesting to hear what you think of this story. It is reminiscent of a controversy that broke out earlier this year at University College, London, when the atheist society there were asked by their student union to remove a Jesus & Mo cartoon from their Facebook page. However, that incident concerned a Facebook page specifically designed for members of the atheist society, whereas the Reading pineapple was on display at an event intended for all students.

Were the Reading atheist society wrong to do something deliberately provocative at such an event (and, by extension, were the SU right to ask them to remove the pineapple), or was the society's freedom of expression undermined by actions of the union reprsentatives?

Thoughts in the comments, please.
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