Archbishop hits back

December 8, 2006

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has hit out at the "suppression" of Christian unions on university campuses with an impassioned defence of free speech, writes Anthea Lipsett.

Writing exclusively in The Times Higher this week, Dr Williams says that student unions that have excluded Christian groups from campus are threatening "the integrity of the whole educational process".

A number of student unions have refused to recognise Christian unions and have denied them access to facilities amid claims that they hold "homophobic" views and breach rules on equal opportunities by excluding non-Christians.

Dr Williams writes: "The danger in issuing sanctions against a body whose views you disapprove of is that it looks like a fear of open argument. If disagreement is to be silenced because offence may be caused, that is not good for intellectual life; it personalises and 'psychologises' all conflict of ideas and denies the possibility of appropriate detachment in debating issues."

Concerns about the treatment of Christian groups surfaced when it emerged that the Christian union at Exeter University was planning to take legal action against local student leaders after being suspended from a list of official societies on equal opportunity grounds.

The Christian union at Birmingham University was suspended earlier this year, and Edinburgh University has banned its Christian union from holding what it called a "homophobic" sex and relationships course on campus.

Heriot-Watt University refused its Christian union permission to join the student union because it excluded non-Christians.

Dr Williams, who used to be a university chaplain, writes that student unions should not have an agenda that is in competition with the associations under it.

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