Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Exeter University Christian Union win crucial vote at Students’ meeting

As the UCCF Team Leader for the South West I have a vested interest in this story. This is very encouraging news for which I'm very thankful both to the Christian Union and Students Guild officers who have worked to see this happen:

EXETER University’s Christian Union won a crucial vote in their highly-publicised human rights battle with the campus Students’ Guild and University authorities. On December 7, their prolonged battle with the University took a substantial step forward when the CU won a democratic student vote at an Emergency General Meeting of the Students’ Guild at which the CU were invited by the Guild to present a motion allowing them to require all officers and members of the CU to sign to a statement of belief.

On January 5, Ben Martin, a member of the Christian Union filed papers at the High Court following the suspension of the 50-year-old Christian Union (CU) from the official list of student societies on campus, and after its Student Union bank account was frozen. The CU had also been banned from free use of Students’ Guild premises, or advertising events within Guild facilities, because the Students’ Guild claimed the CU constitution and activities do not conform to its Equal Opportunities standards.

Following detailed negotiations between the CU, the Guild and the University, and between the National Union of Students and the Universities and Colleges Christian Unions (UCCF), and under the threat of High Court action, the CU has now secured:-

An active Student Union bank account
Re-listing on the Guild’s official list of societies
Permission to use and advertise CU events on Guild/campus premises, and
The right to require all officers and formal (i.e. voting) members of the CU to sign a statement of belief (although, as has always been the case, all events will be open to any students to attend).

At 12-noon on Friday, the Student body voted by 122 to 47 that the relationship between the CU and Student Guild should reflect proposed new guidelines on religious societies as agreed between the National Union of Students and UCCF and therefore, it was acceptable for the CU to ask officers and members to sign up to the aims and belief of the society, whilst all meetings and events are open to all students at Exeter University.

Commenting on the vote, Ben Martin, who has since left the university, said: "This continues to be a long and hard fight for the rights of Christian students to assemble and form as a group of fellow believers under a lawful constitution. We support the rights of any student on campus to assemble and discuss/debate any topic with fellow students in what is a free society. This all began 18 months ago when one student, after 50 years of the CU being on campus, complained that he did not feel able to sign up to our statement of belief. We pray now the Guild will ratify the vote as is right and proper and we will be able to put this all behind us"

Ross Tranter, current CU president added: "The whole CU is pleased with this vote and we hope now that the Guild will ratify the vote so that we may move forward from this matter. We are simply looking forward to getting on with our academic studies and to developing the work of the CU as a well-established, successful and fully recognised society on campus. We hope the Guild will recognise this important vote and not force us to proceed with legal action’

Andrea Williams, Director of the Christian Legal Centre, commented "This vote is an important step forward towards a resolution in this case. It is a victory for common sense, and a signal to the Guild on how students feel about a truly diverse and equal agenda where freedom of religion and freedom of association can be fully respected and integrated on campus. Christian students in Exeter are showing courage and leadership beyond their years and fighting for these great principles of a truly free and democratic society. Universities are the places where the leaders of tomorrow are shaped and moulded, and it is heartening to see Christian students claiming these important principles as their own for the benefit of freedom for all."

‘The Legal Rights of Student Christian Unions’, by Julian Rivers is a paper that rebuts Mark Shaw QC’s Adjudication between the Christian Union and the Student Guild.


For further information:

Ross Tranter, CU president 07790 130792; Ben Martin 07922 511 733; Paul Eddy (Media adviser 07958 905716).

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