Monday, 26 August 2019

We must not introduce new blasphemy laws

The UK schools exam board OCR recently disqualified a GCSE student for making what it called 'obscene racial comments'. It turned out the student had called halal slaughter disgusting, and OCR ruled that this act of 'Islamophobia' constituted a 'malpractice offence'.When it was brought to OCR's attention that the criticisms were made from the student's perspective as a principled vegetarian, it promptly apologised. But what is truly chilling is the implication that it would have been less merciful had she been criticising an Islamic practice in its own right. 
Indeed, OCR seems relaxed about policing students' opinions, saying it 'takes all incidences of suspected offensive material against a religious group in exams very seriously'. Apparently, there are 'rules which are set out for all exam boards in such cases'.
Do we want students to be afraid of applying their own critical thinking to anything and everything? Surely, in an academic context especially, religious practices and beliefs should be freely discussed?