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Christian students threaten to take exeter university and student guild to court over human rights

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Press Release

Issued on behalf of the Exeter University Evangelical Christian Union Committee / UCCF: The Christian Unions


For Immediate Release
16 November 2006

CHRISTIAN STUDENTS THREATEN TO TAKE EXETER UNIVERSITY AND STUDENT GUILD TO COURT OVER HUMAN RIGHTS


CHRISTIAN students at Exeter University are believed to be the first in the UK to threaten legal action against the Student Guild and Exeter University if they do not support  their rights as Christians to the freedoms of speech, belief and association.


The 50-year-old Christian Union (CU) at Exeter University is temporarily suspended from the official list of student societies on campus, has had its Student Union bank account frozen, and has been banned from free use of Student Guild premises, or advertising events within Guild facilities, because the Student Guild claims the CU constitution and activities do not conform to its Equal Opportunties Policies., which have only recently been introduced.


Following detailed legal advice, this Monday (13 Nov), a representative of the Christian Union delivered a Letter before Action to the Guild, and to the University's Registrar, on behalf of the Christian Union.  The letter advised that proceedings would commence without further notice after 14 days unless the Exeter Christian Union was fully re-instated as a student society by the Guild with full rights, and was allowed to call itself the Christian Union


The CU have advised that their action will be taken under the Human Rights Act 1998, and the Education (No.2) Act 1986.


Emma Brewster CU worker at Exeter University said: "This is a fundamental issue of freedom of speech and of common sense. Legal action is the last thing we want to take, and we certainly don’t relish it, but we are fully prepared to stand our ground for truth and freedom.


"We want to be able to study in a university that allows students – of all faiths and of none – to freely express their views from whatever stance they might take, be able to disagree with one another, and yet to co-exist alongside one another.  Surely that is a truly democratic society?


"The CU here, as at almost every university in the UK, holds the orthodox Christian views which churches of all denominations have also held for 2,000 years. In 50 years, this is the first complaint about our name and what we stand for.

"The action currently taken by the Guild does nothing to enhance the reputation of Exeter University, or its students to prospective employers, nor does it demonstrate that this university seeks to encourage all its  students to freely develop their ideas, thoughts, values and beliefs."


ENDS.

For further information:

Emma Brewster 078 36 376 716 (UCCF SW Team leader based in Exeter);

Pod Bhogal     0116 204 7684, 07769 688073 (UCCF Communications Manager);

Paul Eddy 01202 522177, 07851 007 187 (UCCF PR consultant).


Editor's Notes:


  1. The saga started in May this year when one student felt the CU was too exclusive for him. Student Guild officers allowed him to propose a name change to the 'Evangelical Christian Union' at an up-coming Extra-ordinary Annual General Meeting of the Guild. No official notice of the motion had been served on the CU, but his motion was passed by 54 to 50.  The Guild subsequently ratified the vote and forced the CU to call themselves the 'Evangelical Christian Union' from that moment on. The CU believes that whilst the word 'evangelical' has a clear historic meaning, the reason the name change was forced upon them was to make them appear more extreme and exclusive..
  2. The 'ECU' leaders appealed, and proposed a name reversal motion at the Guild's normal Annual General Meeting held last term. That motion was successful, but the Guild Officers refused to ratify it, and instead, called for a vote of the entire 13,000-strong student population – despite the fact that just one student had made the initial complaint.
  3. Hustings and voting took place 9-13 October with 55 per cent of voting students agreeing the CU should be called the Evangelical Christian Union.  However, Guild rules state that 10 per cent of students must vote to make it valid, but only five per cent took part. So the Students’ Guild had to ratify the motion which they dually did.
  4. Whilst the referendum voting was underway, the Guild allowed a proposed motion to suspend the ECU with immediate effect, and for all the 'Guild privileges' to be denied.
  5. It appears that unless they disassociate themselves from the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowships (UCCF), the national body to which they are a part of, and stop the practice of asking committee members and speakers to sign the Doctrinal Basis, they could be permanently banned from the Guild.  They will also continue to have their student union bank account frozen, and will be charged the going rate for rooms or facilities within the Guild's jurisdiction for events or advertising.


Andrea Minichiello Williams

LCF Public Policy Officer

0771 2591164

http://www.lawcf.org


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