Reading ASH at RUSU Freshers' Fayre
Below is a statement from Reading University Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society regarding the recent incident at the RUSU Freshers' Fayre.
Today, the Reading University Atheist, Humanist, and Secularist Society (RAHS) participated in the Freshers’ Fayre organised by Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU).
We spent several hours talking to other students and visitors, promoting the society and encouraging people to attend our forthcoming discussion on the topic “Should we respect religion?”
Among the material displayed on our stall was a pineapple. We labelled this pineapple “Mohammed”, to encourage discussion about blasphemy, religion, and liberty, as well as to celebrate the fact that we live in a country in which free speech is protected, and where it is lawful to call a pineapple by whatever name one chooses.
Towards the end of the afternoon, we were informed by a member of RUSU staff that there had been complaints about the pineapple, despite the fact that no complaints had been made at any point to anybody on the stall. Our commitment to freedom of expression meant that we refused to remove the pineapple from our stall. After a few minutes, we were told by another member of RUSU staff that “Either the pineapple goes, or you do”, whereupon they seized the pineapple and tried to leave. However, the pineapple was swiftly returned, and shortly was displayed again, with the name Mohammed changed to that of Jesus.
Shortly afterwards, the second RUSU staff member returned and ordered RAHS to leave the Freshers’ Fayre. At this point, a group of around five students, some of whom self-identified as Muslim, approached the stall and began to criticise us, asking and telling us to remove the pineapple. Though these students mainly engaged in discussion, one removed the label from the pineapple without our permission.
As the RUSU staff member merely raised his voice and shouted at the RAHS president when he attempted to explain our position, we were ultimately forced to leave the venue. However, several other societies at the Fayre offered to continue distributing our leaflets, and we continued to hand out leaflets outside the venue until we were again asked to leave by RUSU staff members, this time accompanied by RUSU security staff.
The RAHS believes in freedom of expression. Our intent in displaying a pineapple labelled “Mohammed” was to draw attention to cases where religion has been used to limit this and other fundamental rights, such as the imprisonment of Gillian Gibbons. We did not expect to be forced out of the Freshers’ Fayre because of a pineapple, and we are disappointed that RUSU took this action.
The RAHS invites anyone who is interested to attend our Think & Drink event on the topic of “Should we respect religion?” at 14:00 on Tuesday 16th October at Mojos, Student Union Bar.
For any media or other organisations wishing to report on this story, the AHS politely requests that they give Reading ASH the time discuss the incident with their union and come to a resolution before publishing.
Written by Matthew Power