It was meant as a humorous poster to promote a secular society during a university start of term event, but the image of Michelangelo’s famous ‘Creation of Adam’ fresco featuring the satirical deity the Flying Spaghetti Monster has sparked an unlikely freedom of speech row.
The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster came about as a humorous response to the teaching of intelligent design in American schools in 2005. It has since caught on as an anti-religion statement and become popular with secular societies on British university campuses.
The offending poster was put up at London South Bank University last week by non-religious students from the South Bank Atheist Society, only for it to be reportedly removed by student union officials for being “religiously offensive”.
Initially the secular student society reported it was told that “Adam’s genitals” were the issue before union officials allegedly told them the posters caused “religious offences” and their stall was banned from the start-of-term student event.
The campus row has been seized upon by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and the National Federation of Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Students Societies (AHS) who have condemned the poster’s removal as “utterly ridiculous” and part of “rising tide of frivolous censorship” at British universities.
Choe Ansari, 21, president of the South Bank Atheist Society, which put up the posters, said “This incident is just one of a catalogue of attempts to censor our society. I never expected to face such blatant censorship and fragile sensibilities at university, I thought this would be an institution where I could challenge beliefs and in turn be challenged.”
Ms Ansari, a second-year English student, added that during her time at the university she has seen “religious sensibilities trumping all other rights with no space for argument, challenge or reasoned debate”.
Andrew Copson, BHA chief executive, said “This silliness is unfortunately part of an on-going trend. In the last few years we have seen our affiliated societies in campus after campus subjected to petty censorship in the name of offence – often even when no offence has been caused or taken.
“Hypersensitive union officials are totally needlessly harassing students whose only desire is to get on and run totally legitimate social and political societies.”
Rory Fenton, president of the AHS, added “We are very concerned by the tendency to censor our affiliated societies for fear of offending religious sensitivities by overly zealous union representatives. Universities need again to be reminded to recognise our members’ right to free speech: the same rights that also ensure freedom of expression for religious students, adherents to Flying Spaghetti Monster, whoever they are included. Universities must recognise that their duty is to their students, not their students’ beliefs.’
This pasta-based freedom of speech row comes after the London School of Economics was forced to apologise to two students from a secular and humanist society who were forced to cover up T-shirts featuring pictures from a satirical comic strip Jesus and Mo.
The row over images of the “Jesus & Mohammed” satire itself followed a rising tide of criticism that universities were stifling freedom of speech by allowing gender segregated lectures to be held by Islamic student groups.
Barbara Ahland, the president of London South Bank University’s student union, said: “The Students Union has been made aware of an alleged incident that took place at the Refreshers’ Fayre last week. We are taking the allegation very seriously and an investigation is taking place.”
A spokesperson for the University said it “hosts student societies on campus with a wide range of viewpoints” and works to “achieve an inclusive and supportive environment for all of our students“.