News and Commentary

College Defends Artwork With Torn Bible Pages In Flames And References To Satan
A person walks up a stairwell in the Luther Bonney Hall at University of Southern Maine campus.
Staff photo by Derek Davis/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

A student at the University of Southern Maine whose class was allegedly instructed to alter a book to create something new decided to use a Bible, tear its pages and paint them to look like flames and add satanic images covering the face of Jesus, according to Central Maine.

After the piece by Riley Harris was displayed outside a classroom, one young girl who was part of a church gathering at the Wishcamper Center noticed the piece, prompting her father, Charlie Flynn, to slam the display, asserting, “This is someone’s sacred text being desecrated, destroyed and displayed in a public place. I couldn’t help but feel no one’s sacred text should be treated that way. I think it’s very inappropriate and repugnant.”

Harris explained regarding his piece, titled called “Unholy Bible: Very Revised Standard Edition”: “I was thinking a lot about questioning authority in general. People question different types of authority, but for some reason religious authority seems too taboo to question, so I thought I would give it a shot.” He stated that the class instructor pointed out that the class assignment, called “The Introduction to the Visual Book,” could engender plagiarism, so Harris picked a book in the public domain.

Harris, who says he is an atheist, claimed that although the Bible and Christianity are “important to some people, a lot of Christianity harms other people.” He added that he understood the negative reaction, then said, “My only reaction to people responding to it negatively is everyone has their own sort of morals and no one’s morals are right or really wrong. Everyone thinks their own way – and not everyone’s (morals) line up … I don’t think my piece is harming anyone. It’s just making people think. I think when it starts harming someone then maybe it should be considered not great.”

Jared Cash, vice president for enrollment management and marketing at the university, stated, “The university supports freedom of speech rights for all students, affirmed and upheld by Board of Trustee System Policy 212.” Central Maine reported, “The policy states that the university supports free speech so long as it does not ‘violate the law, defame specific individuals, genuinely threaten or harass others, or violate privacy or confidentiality requirements or interests. Although the University System greatly values civility and expects community members to share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, demands for civility and mutual respect will not be used to justify restricting the discussion or expression of ideas or speech that may be disagreeable or even offensive to some members of the University community.’”

Flynn concluded, “If I saw a Koran with pig blood on it I would certainly call someone, or a Torah with unclean foods on it. This is a Bible with Satan’s image put over Jesus’ image and around Christmastime. I don’t understand why that would be viewable in an institution of higher learning. This is USM, a school that services the community.”

Glenn Petruzzi, minister for the Casco Bay Church of Christ, echoed, “Freedom of speech is entitled, but when that space is shared with all different types of people of different faiths and backgrounds we have to consider what that will bring about. It’s a hard one.”

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