Virginia student paper removes Jesus cartoons at artist’s request

Published 11:37 pm Saturday, September 16, 2006

A University of Virginia student newspaper on Friday removed from its Web site cartoons featuring Jesus Christ that prompted a barrage of e-mails to the paper and school from people who thought the comics were blasphemous.

The Charlottesville university and The Cavalier Daily received about 2,500 messages about the comics, many of them form-letter e-mails that were overwhelmingly from people outside the school community.

The strips were removed at the request of the artist, U.Va. student Grant Woolard.

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“The sole intent of my comic strip is to present situations that provoke thought and amusement,” Woolard said in a statement on the newspaper’s Web site. “As this comic did not achieve that goal, I have requested that it be taken down from the Cavalier Daily website. I apologize for the offense that this comic has produced.”

The Jesus cartoons ran in The Cavalier Daily’s Aug. 23 and 24 editions and featured “Christ on a Cartesian Coordinate Plane,” with the figure of Jesus crucified on X and Y axes of a mathematical graph. Another, “A Nativity Ob-scene,” showed Joseph and the Virgin Mary talking about Mary’s rash, with her saying, “I swear, it was immaculately transmitted!”

The controversy began last week when the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights demanded an apology from The Cavalier Daily. The paper declined, saying that the comics didn’t violate any newspaper policy.

U.Va. was then bombarded by e-mails and phone calls, but spokeswoman Carol Wood said that the university has no editorial control over the newspaper, which receives no school funding, and must uphold freedoms of speech, expression and the press.

After discussing the matter further Thursday, The Cavalier Daily changed its position.

“We are regretful that many took offense to them,” the editors said in a statement Friday on the paper’s Web site. “Offense was not our intent — neither the intent of the artist, nor the intent of the newspaper, which seeks to provide contributors an open forum to present their ideas.”

Catholic League President Bill Donohue said that he was satisfied with the removal of the cartoons and the paper’s apology.

“Obviously, I would have liked it to be a little more complete,” Donohue said Friday in a phone interview. “They’re young, they’re college kids. The message has been delivered and we don’t expect to revisit this again.”

Wood said that dealing with the controversy is part of the student editors’ learning experience.

“We know that mistakes will be made and the purpose of a higher education and learning community is to learn from mistakes and take accountability for your actions,” she said. “Better when you’re 18 to 21 than 35 in a job.”

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