Christian foundation embraces non-believers

August 21, 2008

Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) is reviewing references to its Christian ethos and foundation on promotional materials. A new position statement on religion and belief also recommends regular impact assessments of recruitment policies to ensure that applicants of different or no faith are not at a disadvantage.

In view of its Church of England foundation, the university should "make every effort to communicate clearly to all staff and students that matters of personal faith are not relevant to their progression," the document says.

The statement, which follows a year of internal consultation, explains that the university's Christian ethos does not mean that staff and students should hold Christian beliefs.

The Council of Church Colleges and Universities issued guidance last year suggesting that institutions emphasise their Christian ethos in employment contracts and prospectuses. But at a later council meeting, where members discussed the practical meaning of religious ethos, some concluded that emphasising Anglican connections could alienate non-Christians.

Canterbury's statement also recommends the creation of a Faith and Belief Council and advises staff on the limits of freedom of expression and requests for leave at times of religious significance.

"Manifestation of freedom of thought, conscience and religion is not absolute and intervention may be justified where this is considered necessary to protect the rights of others as set out in equalities legislation," the paper says.

Dennis Hayes, founder of Academics for Academic Freedom and head of the Centre for Professional Learning at CCCU, argued to the university's governors that freedom of speech and equality were traditionally "inseparable values".

"Freedom of speech always had priority as you couldn't argue for equality without that freedom," he said. "By arguing that academic freedom is not an absolute, (CCCU managers) may ultimately be forced to suppress the expression of their own religious beliefs."

The governors have agreed to revisit the issue in November.

Patricia Broadfoot, vice-chancellor of the University of Gloucestershire, which also has a Christian foundation, said: "Many of us would want to celebrate the importance the document attaches to the promotion of interfaith understanding, spiritual literacy and personal support for staff and students. (It) represents a brave initiative on the part of CCCU to define what their foundation means in practice and I commend the university's courage in addressing this difficult and challenging subject."

The full position statement can be accessed via the link http://www.canterbury.ac.uk/about/equal-opportunities.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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