- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 25, 2006

RADFORD, Va. (AP) — Online cartoons that satirize Jesus Christ, Islam’s prophet Muhammad and other religious figures are causing a stir among students and administrators at Radford University.

The “Christ on Campus” comic strip, created by cartoonist Christian Keesee and appearing on Whim Internet Magazine, has featured images of Jesus being stabbed by Santa Claus; playing poker with Muhammad, Buddha, Vishnu and Satan; and punching a heckler who called Jesus a “glorified Easter bunny.”

Brian Erskine, chairman of Radford’s College Republicans, said he would “fight tooth and nail” for Mr. Keesee’s right to publish the cartoon, but describes it as crude.

“I don’t understand how someone who claims to be a Christian … could do something like this,” said Mr. Erskine, who writes a column for Whim.

The online magazine is funded through student fees, but the university exercises no editorial control.

Norleen Pomerantz, vice president for student affairs, said a meeting scheduled for this week will address how to balance free speech and good taste.

Mr. Keesee said that when he started the comic strip in October, he was unaware of the Danish cartoons depicting Islam and Muhammad that triggered deadly riots among Muslims in the Middle East months after their initial publication in September.

Mr. Keesee, a sophomore from Salem, said he expected readers would be offended by a cartoon with Jesus as a main character “if it’s not from the Bible or it’s not from a Sunday school handout.”

Depicting Jesus in modern human form is absurd, but that’s intentional, he said.

“I could draw Jesus and put in a Bible Scripture at the bottom with the point I’m trying to make, and that wouldn’t be interesting,” he told the Roanoke Times.

Mr. Keesee said he is a little uncomfortable with some of the anger generated by the strip but has no plans to stop.

Blake Fought, sports editor of the student newspaper, said the cartoon should be stopped or at least vetted by a third party before being published to prevent the rancor on campus from turning ugly.

Mr. Fought said he understands free speech but thinks a line needs to be drawn, especially when the press lampoons something as personal as religion.

“I don’t like the ones about Muhammad either,” he said.

Mr. Keesee argues that those who get angry over his cartoon Jesus miss the larger message.

“I just want to tell them to lighten up,” he said. “Most times, there’s a point to it.”

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