Keeping faith with free speech? 1

December 15, 2006

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, makes a brave defence of freedom of association and freedom of speech (Features, December 8), something the National Union of Students and its membership also defend and encourage. Certainly, "silencing disagreement is bad for intellectual life", but Williams does not consider that some Christian unions themselves proscribe opinion through limiting access to others, and that this is what student unions are trying to counter.

Student unions are not, as he claims, seeking to be "arbiters of acceptable opinion". They are seeking to allow free flow of opinion within as well as between societies. Surely Williams would agree that it is a bad thing to encourage a highly polarised student society scene that misses out on engaging with the mass of students in the middle ground who want to explore different ideas.

He seems to have become embroiled in a debate that is pitching "secular"

student unions against faith. This is a false dichotomy. Faith groups and their diverse opinions are welcome on campus, and it needs to be acknowledged that the student movement has a proud record of supporting faith groups, interfaith dialogue and ensuring the happy existence of equal opportunities structures and fully functioning faith societies on the vast majority of campuses.

Gemma Tumelty
National president, NUS

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