Thursday, September 06, 2007


Some months ago it looked as if costly and acrimonious legal action was going to be the outcome of a series of disputes between some evangelical Christian Unions and Student Unions across Britain's campuses. Exeter and Edinburgh were among those in the spotlight. Ekklesia's response was to seek to open up dialogue with both sides in the disputes - which was about freedom of speech, and who ran or had access to bodies using student society facilities and publicly funded university/college halls. Our report was called United We Stand. Now, thankfully, things have moved on - and the National Union of Students and the UCCF (which helps run Christian Unions) have reached a common set of guidelines - with the help of the Equality Challenge Unit (see: Student leaders and Christian Unions produce joint guidelines to end disputes). This is great news. And it has involved a lot of hard work for all the parties involved - which didn't include us, incidentally, so there's no trumpet-blowing in that remark. Sadly, the National Secular Society news service sniffily labelled the outcome in terms of "Christians cosy up to Student Unions." This seems unfair and unhelpful. The process by which the mutual guidance has come about is a victory for mediation over consultation, a boost to genuine pluralism (for both religious and non-religious students) and as NUS National President Gemma Tumelty says, "is in line with the law, university regulations, union regulations and the democratic principles of liberty, equality and respect for diversity." That ought, in fact, to be an example of what even-handed secularity, as distinct from an anti-religious variety, is about. My response on behalf of Ekklesia is here.

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