Anorak | London School of Economics Apologises For Banning Free Speech

London School of Economics Apologises For Banning Free Speech

by | 19th, December 2013

jesus and mo

FREEDOM of Speech is under attack on your student campuses. The London School of Economics (LSE) banned Chris Moos and Abhishek Phandis, of the student Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (LSEASH), from wearing Jesus and Mo  cartooons  at the SU Freshers’ Fair on 3 October.

It’s not the Islamofascists and funny, dangerous foreigners eroding our free speech; it’s us.

But it’s all about equality, isn’t it? Only, if everyone gets to be equal, who gets to be free?

The University of Birmingham’s  code of practice on freedom of speech on campus  is long. A nine-page list of codes for being free and saying what you want in public. Because free speech needs a lot of explaining when it’s not free.

The University of Bolton actually wants students to debate what can be talked about before any event:


Anyone involved in organising a meeting or other activity, or processing a room booking should consider whether there is a possibility that the speaker may not be able to enter or leave the building safely and/or have the freedom within the law to deliver their speech; or that a breach of the civil or criminal law may be committed. The following is an indicative list of circumstances which might give rise to a reasonable apprehension that disruption or disorder may occur.

You know, the kind of things students might want to talk about are only allowed to be talked about with official approval lest the sensitive be upset. This is great:

(a) where the subject-matter of the meeting or activity includes in whole or in part Animal experimentation Immigration and nationality policy The supposed superiority or otherwise of racial/ethnic/religious groupings Blood sports Genocide A current or recent war (or revolution) Sexual abuse of children and paedophilia Abortion Drugs policy Terrorism Other local or national controversial matters

(b) when the guest or visiting speaker includes Any current Member of the House of Commons or Lords A present or former representative of any political party which has put forward candidates at a British or Irish Parliament election in the last 20 years Any member of the British or an overseas Royal family Any diplomat or the representative of a foreign power Any person who has previously been prevented from delivering a speech or whose presence has threatened a breach of the peace at the University or any other Higher Education Institution

(c) where the subject matter might be considered to be of a blasphemous (3) nature (not just in respect of Christianity), obscene or defamatory. This list is provided for guidance and is not intended to be exhaustive. If there is any doubt whether the Code applies, the guidance of the University Secretary and Clerk to the Governors should be sought.

Bolton then explains: “‘Blasphemy’ is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘irreverent talk about God or sacred things’.”

And get this caveat to free speech from Exeter University:

The University expects students, staff, governors, the Students’ Guild and visitors to ensure freedom of speech within the law is assured. Whilst there is no legal prohibition on offending others, the University nevertheless believes that discussion that is open and honest can take place only if offensive or provocative action and language is avoided.

Talk about anything you like. But you must not offend anyone.

The LSE Code of Free Speech includes the gem : “The Conference and Events Office will normally screen bookings from within and outside of the School.”

Students, Give up now. Ideas are set in stone. Forget that speech is how we communicate ideas both good and bad; how we shape lives; and just stick to the talking about the things the officials approve of. What ideas can be discussed has been decided upon. Free speech means freedom not only for the thoughts you approve of but those you despise. Don’t ban it. It just makes you look weak.

Last year, we noted that the LSEASH wanted to feature a picture of Muslim Prophet Mohammed and Jesus Christ sitting in a pub having a pint on its group Facebook page. The LSE Student Union was upset enough to call an “emergency meeting”.

Tasif Aman made a good  point :

When analysing the nature of the cartoons, however, one could conclude that defending the right to draw such cartoons is not related to promoting freedom of speech if the cartoons serve no purpose in actually criticising religion (or anything else). I will propose that the cartoons are designed to promote and reinforce a reductive and perverse view of religion often based on prejudice or ignorance. However, I will not argue that the cartoons should be censored or banned because they may cause offence.

I strongly believe that the question shouldn’t be whether “offensive” cartoons should or shouldn’t be published. Rather, we should question whether using freedom of speech to cause offense and provoke sections of society is compatible with civic responsibility within a pluralist, tolerant and diverse society.

So. Now the T-shirt.

In October Abhishek Phadnis wrote:

“The right of each person to dress as they choose has been at the core of the cohesion of our multicultural society”
Jay Stoll, General Secretary, LSE Students’ Union,  September 18, 2013

“The SU asked the students to cover the t-shirts in the interests of good campus relations”
Jay Stoll, General Secretary, LSE Students’ Union,  October 4, 2013

He continued :

The trouble with  advertising  yourself as an institution for people who enjoy being “challenged intellectually, socially and personally” is that some of us will actually believe it, and expect you to live up to that promise by being a haven for free inquiry and free expression.

This was the delusion under which Christian Moos and I set up our Atheists’ Stall at the LSE Freshers’ Fair on Thursday morning, wearing t-shirts featuring an  award-winning comic strip  known for its crisp satires of the monotheisms. In this way, we hoped to greet our new members with a popular and light-hearted lampoon. Then political correctness caught up.

The London School of Economics Student Union (LSESU)  will tell you  that its scandalous crackdown was prompted by concerns that our t-shirts jeopardised “good campus relations” and the “spirit of the Freshers’ Fair”. Perhaps some of this bonhomie was lost in translation, because where a polite request would have sufficed, we were subjected to an ambush.

At noon, the Community and Welfare Officer Anneessa Mahmood barged in and began ripping our publicity material off the wall, while her companions, the Deputy Chief Executive Jarlath O’Hara and Anti-Racism Officer Rayhan Uddin, demanded we take off our t-shirts on pain of being hauled bodily from the premises. Their Kafkaesque refrain was that the t-shirts were “offensive” to some students and that an explanation would be provided at some point after our eviction.

We stood our ground, protesting our innocence, and so Paul Thornbury, the Head of LSE Security, was summoned to inform us that we were not

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Posted: 19th, December 2013 | In: Key Posts, News Comments (4) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink