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Victory for free speech as pro-life students finally granted affiliation

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A PRO-LIFE student group, after several monthsof censorship, rejection and delay, has finally been granted affiliation by the Aberdeen University Students’ Union [AUSA] following a legal challenge.

The case, launched and supported by the Christian Legal Centre in April, challenged AUSA’s discriminatory treatment of the Aberdeen Life and Ethics Society [ALES] by rejecting its affiliation application on the grounds that the Students’ Union had set in place a policy which called for the no-platforming of any group which held pro-life views.

The case is part of a disturbing trend across over 100 UK universities where reportedly 48% of universities have implemented speech codes and policies which limit religious expression. Evidence also shows that no less than 108 universities in the UK have actively censored free speech; or have done so through over-regulation. On the abortion issue, there have also been specific cases of pro-life societies being censored at Glasgow and Strathclyde universities.
 
In April 2018, the Aberdeen Life Ethics Society (ALES) submitted a new society application for affiliation to Aberdeen University’s Societies Union Committee (AUSA). Yet in November 2017 AUSA had implemented an “AUSA is Pro-Choice” policy which required the union to give “no funding, facilitation, or platform” to any pro-life group and forbids the “unreasonable display” of pro-life material on campus. When AUSA received the application from the pro-life group they said it could only be considered in the new term. In October 2018 ALES subsequently received the following email:
 
"We unfortunately are unable to affiliate Aberdeen Life Ethics Society as you are directly against an AUSA policy and so we are not allowed to affiliate you. The policy in question can be found here: https://www.ausa.org.uk/resources/6045/AUSA-is-Pro-Choice/ and does not lapse until 2020."
 
This is despite Aberdeen University’s policy on Religion and Belief, and in particular its statement on ethics and diversity, stating: “The University is also committed to providing a learning, working and social environment in which the rights and dignity of all its members are respected, and which is free from discrimination, prejudice, intimidation and all forms of harassment and bullying.”
 
For the next seven months, ALES made every reasonable effort to understand and challenge why their application was being rejected but were met with repeated obstruction and delay which again resulted in the repeated rejection of their application.

In April, the Aberdeen Sheriff Court issued a writ filed by ALES against AUSA claiming that it had discriminated against the pro-life student group on the sole ground that it espoused the legally protected belief that unborn human life should enjoy legal protection. Shortly following the court filing, AUSA suspended its pro-abortion policy prompting ALES to re-apply for affiliation. That application was accepted and affiliation was offered to ALES on the 14th of May.
 
Alex Mason, a PHD student and member of the Aberdeen Life Ethics society, said: "From the beginning, all we wanted was a chance to exercise our right to speak freely on campus in defence of life. While it was frustrating to be censored by AUSA for several months, we are pleased to finally have the ability to form our society and engage our fellow students on these important ethical issues. We could not have won this fight without such generous help from Christian Concern, and so we will always be grateful to them for their expert assistance and like-minded partnership."

Roger Kiska of the Christian Legal Centre, said: "We welcome this decision by the Aberdeen University Students' Association and believe it should set a precedent and send a message to all UK universities that free speech and freedom of religion must be tolerated on campus. The UK has traditionally been a bastion of free speech, but in recent years that has been eroded and the trend has been reflected in over 100 of our universities.

"We hope that this case stops this snow-balling effect and that more students, currently afraid to express their truly held beliefs, will have the courage to speak out. We applaud the stance taken by ALES and wish them well as they launch their pro-life society in the new term and finally have the right to speak up for the unborn child."

 

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