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BHA: ‘No one has the right not to have their most profound beliefs challenged - and in universities it should surely be encouraged'

The University College, London (UCL) Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society has issued a final statement on the recent events surrounding the publication of a cartoon on Facebook.

New Society President Michael Thor said:

'Since the cartoon image was put up in the event page of our pub social, many things have happened very quickly. First came the complaints, the Union complaints, our petition, then the counter-petition. These events were reported by various articles and blog posts, and it doesn’t seem to stop. We are continuously being contacted to make a statement but we have a society to run and lives to get on with so we're making a statement now to mark an end to this immediate situation.

'What makes a student society is the ability to be open, foster community and - most importantly - encourage critical debate. The principal objective of our Society is to maintain a sceptical view on everything, be it astrology, numerology or theism. I am personally a strong believer of freedom of speech and I believe that it is a vitally important freedom to maintain. Freedom of speech guarantees the space for intellectual discourse, and in that space, people should be able to say what they want, without being afraid of censorship on the grounds of offence.

'By our publication of this image there was no intention to offend and I am sorry to hear that people took personal offence when viewing it. However, 'offence' was certainly inadequate grounds for the removal of the image to be requested by the UCL Union. Their policies need clarification to prevent this same situation from arising in the future.

'In the meantime, I am looking forward to maintaining the positive spirit and riveting discussions that characterise our Society on campus, both within our group and with other societies.'

Jenny Bartle, president of the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS), commented:

‘Our members support the freedom of speech of religious societies on campus and we would hope for the same respect from them. Our members are also committed to working with their Student Unions to secure good relations between students with different beliefs. However, Unions should must also understand that the giving of offence does not constitute harassment and when it is the incidental by-product of legitimate activities, offence is not a good reason to inhibit free expression.'

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association
(BHA) gave support to the society:

‘No one has the right not to have their most profound beliefs challenged - and in universities it should surely be encouraged. We will continue to support our affiliate society at UCL as they get back to business as usual, but the use of the grounds of offence to target non-religious student groups in particular is something that we will continue to monitor.'

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