LSE apologises over satirical T-shirt row

Wearing of shirts depicting Prophet Mohammed and Jesus ‘did not amount to harassment’

Two students who were forced to cover up T-shirts depicting the Prophet Mohammed and Jesus at a freshers’ fair have received an apology from their university head.

Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis were manning an Atheist Secularist and Humanist Society stall at the London School of Economics’ Freshers’ Fair on 3 October when they were asked to cover their T-shirts, which used pictures from the satirical comic strip Jesus and Mo.

The pair were told by student union officers that displaying the T-shirts, which featured a depiction of Mohammed prohibited under Islamic law, may constitute harassment of a religious group.

With security staff threatening them with expulsion from the fair, the two students reluctantly agreed to cover up the T-shirts.

The LSE later said the T-shirts were “clearly designed to depict Mohammed and Jesus in a provocative manner” and that a number of complaints had been made.

The students formally appealed to the School on 12 November over its actions and have now received a public apology from the LSE director Craig Calhoun.

Professor Calhoun has written to the students acknowledging that, with hindsight, the wearing of the T-shirts on this occasion did not amount to harassment or contravene the law or LSE policies.

However, Professor Calhoun said staff had faced difficulties in dealing with the situation on the day.

“Members of staff acted in good faith and sought to manage the competing interests of complainant students and yourselves in a way that they considered to be in the best interests of all parties on the days in question,” he said.

The apology comes amid concerns that universities are pandering to the sensibilities of Islamic extremists on campus.

Last week Universities UK withdrew controversial advice endorsing voluntary gender segregation for audiences if requested by visiting speakers after criticism from the prime minister.

In its statement on the T-shirt matter, the LSE said it recognised that “this apology will occasion debate and discussion”.

“LSE takes its duty to promote free speech very seriously, and as such, will discuss and learn from the issues raised by recent events,” it said.

However, it added that it and the students’ union had also “put on record concern over the nature of some of the social media debate on this matter in the past, which has been highly personalised”.

Among comments made on social media at the time, high-profile atheist Richard Dawkins branded LSE student union officers “sanctimonious little prigs” over the incident.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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