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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Free Word

When I was a student, as long ago as 1977, Gay News published a poem which graphically described the crucified Christ being fellated by the Roman centurion at the foot of the cross, and thereby drew upon itself a prosecution for blasphemy at the behest of the late Mary Whitehouse. The editor of the student newspaper at my university (Reading) decided that as a gesture of solidarity he would publish the poem. The result: a packed emergency meeting of the Student Union. Christian groups turned out in force to overturn the decision (and, if memory serves me rightly, carried the vote by a close margin). But we progressive union hacks - Liberals and points left - saw it differently. The poem was making a valid point about Christian homophobia, and if Christians were offended they had only themselves to blame. And even if it wasn't making a valid point, freedom of speech was paramount.

How times change. It seems the student newspaper at the University of Cardiff will need to find a new name as well as a new editor.

Of course we intrepid revolutionaries at Reading had the luxury of being able to take it for granted that the Christian Union were Christian enough not to resort to violence.


Anonymous said...


I think that comparison between the publication of that egregious poem (Dennis Lemmon?) in your Student Union mag and the cartoons in a newspaper is different in this respect.

The Student Magazine was funded by Union funds to which all students in your Uni had contributed. The Christian Union had every right, therefore, to object to the printing - at their expense - of a poem that huge numbers of Christians would find deeply offensive.

People have the choice of buying newspapers. Or not.

BTW this horrible poem was displayed about 10 years ago in the window of the main library in nottingham. After public complaints it was removed. And a good thing too.

Cyrus said...

Lemon was the editor, the poet was James Kirkup - I refrain from putting poet in quotes because I've read at least one thing by him that wasn't bad.

This is interesting on the background to its publication:

Then as now there is a distinction to be made between the right to publish and whether it is right to exercise that right. I agree that the Christian students were perfectly entitled to exercise their democratic right to stop the re-publication, and there is no contradiction between that and holding that Gay News were entitled to print the poem.

The difference now is that the Cardiff SU see self-censorship as a self-evident virtue to be exercised without any democratic consultation. I suspect at least some of them would say the Danish paper should never have been allowed to publish the cartoons in the first place.