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Students first in UK to take their Student Union and University to court over human rights

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Issued on behalf of the Exeter University Evangelical Christian Union Committee


Press Release


5 January 2007


CHRISTIAN students at Exeter University are the first in the UK to take legal action under the Human Rights Act against their Student Guild and University.


The Executive Committee of the Exeter University Evangelical Christian Union has today (5JAN) issued proceedings in the High Court seeking a Judicial Review of the decision to suspend the Christian Union from the Guild of Students; such acts by the Guild violating the rights of association of religious bodies.. The Court will be asked to quash the decision to suspend. The committee has also instructed Paul Diamond, a leading Civil Rights Barrister to represent them.


The action was taken after the students advised both the Guild and the university authorities that it had failed to support their right as Christians to the freedoms of speech, belief and association.


The 50-year-old Christian Union (CU) at Exeter University is currently 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.


A Letter before Action to the Guild, and to the University's Registrar was served, on behalf of the whole Christian Union in December, advising that proceedings would commence 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 Guild has refused to reinstate, and therefore the Evangelical CU has advised that their action will be taken under the Human Rights Act 1998, and the Education (No.2) Act 1986.


Ben Martin, a member of the CU committee in Exeter said: "Legal action was the very last thing we wanted to take.


"We are all students trying to concentrate on our studies, but the action by the Guild, in blatant infringement of our rights, and their reluctance to reinstate us, has left us with no alternative."


The Guild had suggested to the CU that mediation and negotiation might help, but the CU is adamant that when it comes to fundamental human rights, "there is nothing to mediate or negotiate about," added Mr Martin. He stressed, however, that if the Guild had reinstated the CU as a full society, then he and others would have been happy to meet with the Guild and look afresh at how its Equal Opportunities policies related to religious societies.


The CU expects a first hearing of the case in the High Court in London around March/April.


Ends.


For further information:

Ben Martin 079 22 511 733 (Exeter University ECU member)


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


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



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, its contemporary usage is ill-defined and can be very misleading and was being forced upon them in order to make them appear extreme and exclusive.
  2. The 'ECU' leaders appealed, and proposed a name reversal motion at the Guild's normal Annual General Meeting held in June 2006. 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 duly did.
  4. Whilst the referendum was underway, the Guild allowed a proposed motion to suspend the ECU with immediate effect, and for all the 'Guild privileges' to be denied. The Guild said the CU failed to comply with the Equal Opportunities Policy of the Guild.
  5. It appears that unless the CU disassociate themselves from the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF), the national body of which they are a part, and stop the practice of asking committee members and speakers to sign their 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.



Paul Eddy, FRSA
Director
Paul Eddy Public Relations Limited
Kavanagh House
25 Ridley Road
Bournemouth BH9 1LD
T:  01202 522177
E:
W: www.pepr.co.uk


See also http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6232869.stm.


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