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March 15, 2008
With the headline in the Boar shouting “I don’t believe it” when it came to the news that Warwick Atheists had won Best New Society Award two weeks ago, the famous catchphrase seems to have been proven correct. On the last day of term, the Union decided to revoke the Society’s award and the accompanying £100 they had won. At the centre of this decision and sudden acrimony between the society and the Union’s Welfare Officer, are the posters depicting religions being disposed of in a bin. Their inspiration might very well have come from the campaign to keep the No Platform Policy, who used a symbol of a person binning a swastika, but it seems that Atheist version led to a ‘number of complaints’.
According to the Union, the Executive Committee of the Warwick Atheists Society was sent an e-mail regarding the posters that were put up around campus entitled ‘The Importance of Atheism’. The society’s executive was informed that these posters were in the process of being taken down, and that we would be in contact again once the issue had been dealt with in the appropriate manner. Indeed, Ed Callow was seen taking them down with much determination. The main image within the posters themselves was of an individual discarding the symbols of nine major global religions into a litter bin, with the tagline “It’s time to take out the trash” written at the bottom. The Union claims that they included a level of unnecessary and discriminatory language which included: “If you’re sick and tired of hearing “it’s my faith” used as a smokescreen for ridiculous viewpoints, come and take a look at what we have to say”.
The Union has also taken the decision to ban the reproduction of the image in any other publication or media. They have claimed that the “The bounds of the Equal Opportunities Appendix apply to reproductions of these posters in the same way as the posters themselves”.
According to sources close to the Warwick Atheists new Exec, the society is planning to to appeal the decision. Indeed, their main argument against revoking their award was that they were judged on their progress throughout the year, not afterwards. However, the Union takes a different view; ‘Even though this publicity went up after the distribution of awards, given that the criteria include ‘Commitment to Equal Opportunities’, ‘Good intersociety relations’ and ‘Contribution to the Union / wider University environment’, it was felt that this breach was serious enough to merit withdrawal of this honour for the 2007/2008 academic year.’
It seems that Warwick Atheists are not prepared to sit back and accept the Union’s judgment. On an unofficial blog called ‘ToolChronicles’, the ‘Chronicler’ – an anonymous ‘individual’ who according to the ‘webmaster’, doesn’t represent Warwick Atheists, highlighted the words ‘Fuck You Ed’, evidently referring to the Welfare Officer, and he/she defends Warwick Atheists position: “We’ve produced nothing as or more offensive than has been seen in the past, and it was merely a free expression of a valid viewpoint held by a great many people. Religion is mocked in every form of entertainment we have nowadays. We weren’t even doing that. This poster is not offensive to average people. A minority, an incorrectly outspoken minority at that, expressed that it offended their sensitive theistic values.”
The issue does raise questions about freedom of speech and sensitivity towards different religions. After the recent Referendum decision to now allow racists and fascists into the Union, the debate about information will not rest. Warwick students will now enjoy a rift between Mr Callow and Warwick Atheists. The ‘Chronicler’ stated “We’re taking it to appeal, and we’re going to fight it every step of the way. Bring it on, Callow.”
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Outgoing Head of News