A petition demanding an apology from a London university has been started after students were reportedly threatened with force for wearing t-shirts depicting Jesus and the prophet Mohammed.
Both the London School of Economics (LSE) and its student union (LSESU) have come under fire for the treatment of two students who donned the satirical 'Jesus and Mo' cartoon t-shirts.
Abishek Phadnis and Chris Moos, who belong to Atheist, Secularist and Humanist student society at LSE, were asked to cover up the garments while attending the university's freshers' fair on Thursday.
Abishek Phadnis and Chris Moos in the offending tshirts
The pair agreed to do so but returned the following day wearing the t-shirts, censoring the "offensive" parts with tape.
The LSESU's deputy chief executive Jarlath O'Hara approached the duo, warning they would be "bodily removed" by the university's security team. Moos and Phadnis claim they were "intimidated" by the "heavy-handed actions" of LSE and LSUE.
A petition has since been started by LSE student governor Jason Wong and has been signed by more than 1,200 supporters, including the vice-president of LSE's student conservative society.
"We the undersigned are writing to convey students’ shock and concern over the use of physical intimidation and threat of force imposed on students," the petition reads. "We.. would therefore like to offer the SU and Sabbatical Officers an opportunity to apologise for its blatant attack on free speech and mistreatment of students as well as a promise that future disputes will be resolved through peaceful persuasion and not threat of force."
A statement issued by the two students, and published on the National Secular Society's website, read: "We can confirm the aforementioned students union and LSE security staff were the only visitors to our stall who expressed offence at our clothing.
"We had students from all kinds of backgrounds come to us to express their support and astonishment about the heavy-handed actions of the LSE and LSESY, including several students who self-identified as Muslims.
"We are still in shock about the intimidating behaviour of the LSESU and LSE staff," the statement continued. "We strongly reject the claim our clothing or behaviour could be reasonably interpreted as 'harassing' or 'offensive'."
LSE and LSESU issued a joint statement insisting there had been a "number of complaints" from other students:
"Two students.. wore t-shirts that were clearly designed to depict Mohammed and Jesus in a provocative manner. The Students’ Union, which runs the event, received a number of complaints from other students.
"The SU asked the students to cover the t-shirts in the interests of good campus relations.. In this instance, it was judged that the actions of the students were undermining what should have been a welcoming and inclusive event."
Richard Dawkins weighed in on the debate, tweeting:
I'm "offended" by backwards baseball caps, chewing gum, niqabs, "basically" and "awesome". Quick, LSE Student Union, ban them all.
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) October 4, 2013
Everything probably offends somebody. To be on the safe side, LSE Student Union, better ban everything.
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) October 5, 2013
The British Humanist Association's chief executive Andrew Copson branded the event “a sad indictment of the state of free speech at Britain’s Universities today” and said the organisation and are legally advising the students.