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Last Updated: Friday, 5 January 2007, 18:17 GMT
Christian students in legal fight
Cross and candle
The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken out in the row
A Christian Union group banned from student facilities is taking legal action under the Human Rights Act.

Exeter University Evangelical Christian Union was suspended from the student guild and had a bank account frozen.

The guild decided on the measures because the group asked members to sign a statement of religious belief.

Similar groups have been accused of discrimination against non-Christians and gay people. The union is seeking a judicial review at the High Court.

The case could have implications for religious groups across the UK.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said moves against the Christian Unions are wrong.

This is certainly not a debate regarding the beliefs of the society, it is one of equal opportunities
Exeter University Students Guild

Dr Rowan Williams said the refusal by some student unions to recognise evangelical Christian groups looked like a "fear of open argument".

Dr Williams said that while the views of evangelicals on the issue of homosexual sex may be "embarrassing" to liberal Christians, traditional values should not be compared to holocaust denial or racial bigotry.

As well as Exeter, the Christian Union at the University of Birmingham faced a similar suspension of a bank account and exclusion from free use of student union premises.

Similar action is also said to have been considered against Christian Unions at Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University and some London medical schools.

The student guild at Exeter University says that the Christian Union's equal opportunities policies are being "audited".

The Christian Union says its meetings are open to all, but members are asked to sign a statement of belief in Jesus as their God and saviour and officials to sign a more comprehensive statement of belief.

Going to court is the last thing we want to do, but we really feel that our fundamental freedoms of belief, association and expression are being threatened here
Evangelical Christian Union committee member Ben Martin

A statement on the Exeter University Students Guild website said: "The premise of the situation is that students felt that as students fund our societies and as our Equal Opportunities Policy states, all activities should be open to all students.

"The Evangelical Christian Union is the only society identified that has barriers to entry - both for membership of the society and to be on the committee of the society.

"This is certainly not a debate regarding the beliefs of the society, it is one of equal opportunities."

Ben Martin, a member of the Christian Union committee in Exeter, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Going to court is the last thing we want to do, but we really feel that our fundamental freedoms of belief, association and expression are being threatened here.

"We are quite prepared to stand up for those freedoms, hence why we are going to court."

'No alternative'

Mr Martin added the list of beliefs was only necessary if a person sought to lead the group, but "anybody is free to come to any meeting".

He has described the action by the guild as a "blatant infringement of our rights".

"Their reluctance to reinstate us, has left us with no alternative," he added.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The case is one of four high profile Christian Union actions



SEE ALSO
Evangelical students 'suppressed'
08 Dec 06 |  Education
Ban for exclusive Christian body
25 Jan 06 |  West Midlands

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