Student and atheist groups call for freedom of expression in Bangladesh

Apr 26, 2013

Aaron Underwood, vice president of the MU student atheist organization speaks to a crowd at the Defend Dissent protest on Thursday April 25, 2013.
Credit Bridgit Bowden / KBIA

A group gathered in MU’s speaker’s circle Thursday to speak out against the Bangladeshi government and advocate for freedom of expression. 

Nearly 15 atheists participated in the Defend Dissent protest.  The demonstration was inspired by the arrest of several bloggers in Bangladesh who spoke out against the government and against Islam.  Columbia is one of several cities across the globe participating in Defend Dissent.   

Greg Lammers is the State director for American Atheists and the founder of Columbia Atheists.  He said the movement aims to protect free speech, especially speech that is critical of religion. “Our main message is freedom of expression," he said, "and that includes blasphemy, that includes opinions that are not popular certainly, and so the freedom to criticize, the freedom to ridicule, the freedom to critique, we want as absolute  human right to freedom of expression and freedom of thought as we can have.”

Several MU students from a student atheist group participated in the demonstration.  Aaron Underwood, the organization’s vice president said it all comes down to human rights.  “I think it’s important to stand up to what we deem to be human rights," he said. "I think it’s a human rights issue in Bangladesh that people are being maimed, tortured, killed, and prisoned for simply speaking contrary to prevailing attitudes.”

Although Defend Dissent is an international movement, many cities have canceled their demonstrations because the Bangladeshi government is staging a day of mourning following a building collapse.  The Columbia group chose to continue its demonstration.