Keeping faith with free speech? 3

December 15, 2006

Why all this fuss about Christian unions? Most university student unions agree with the simple principle that all student societies must be open to all students. Discrimination - by sex, colour, belief or anything else - is not allowed.

So I am surprised that the Archbishop of Canterbury has decided to join the fray. Is he really arguing for discrimination in student unions?

In the 1980s, I was chair of a student societies' committee at a large University of London college. We were forced to stop the Christian Union from being a union club for exactly the same reason it has been deemed necessary at Exeter and Birmingham universities, that is, they sought to prevent those of other faiths, or none at all, from joining or becoming officers of the club.

We had an amicable divorce. Nobody went to lawyers, the press or the bishop, and the Christian Union's activities were largely unaffected - it could still, for example, book rooms in the college.

I find it puzzling that Christian Unions now find it necessary to call lawyers when they have problems, rather than sitting down like adults and sorting out the difficulties. If the Student Union constitution says that all clubs must admit all students, and the Christian Union is breaking this, then the right approach is to fix the problems, not look for special pleading. This might mean arguing for a change to the Student Union constitution or moving the Christian Union outside the union with as little impact on its members as possible.

If you can have a meat eater running the vegetarian society, why can't you have an atheist running the Christian Union? Faith is not required, merely competence and responsibility to the members.

D. L. Clements
London

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