In August, third-year Grant Woolard submitted his first two “Quirksmith” comic strips for publication in the Cavalier Daily. One, titled “Christ on a Cartesian Coordinate Plane,” depicted Jesus crucified on a mathematical x-y axis; the other suggested that the Virgin Mary suffered an “immaculately transmitted” venereal disease.
Twice in the previous academic year the paper’s editors had apologized for comics, one that used language that offended homosexuals and another that portrayed Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha as judges on an “American Idol”-style game show. Soon thereafter, the editors hammered out a policy—published in April—to determine how to handle potentially offensive material without compromising freedom of expression. The editors judged that Woolard’s cartoons did not run afoul of the policy, which allowed criticism of religious beliefs, and they were published.
The strips produced an outcry. Bill Donohue, president of New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, was rebuffed in his demands for another apology, leading him to publicly protest what he perceived as the paper’s double standard. Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly urged UVA alumni to withhold donations to the school until the Cavalier Daily was “forced off campus.” Thousands of e-mails and dozens of phone calls inundated both the Cavalier Daily and University administrators (who have no oversight over the independent, student-run paper).
Initially defiant—“We value our freedom too much to allow non-journalists to censor our writers and artists. We will distribute the Cavalier Daily by hand on pieces of notebook paper before we ever allow that to change,” said one editorial—the paper later changed its tone. In announcing the removal of the offensive strips from the paper’s Web site, the editors wrote, “We are regretful that many took offense to them.” Woolard, the cartoonist, posted his own statement that the strips did not meet his intent of “present[ing] situations that provoke thought and amusement. … I apologize for the offense that this comic has produced.”
The Catholic League’s Donohue, too, was conciliatory, declaring the issue closed. “We are pleased with the outcome,” he said.