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Last Updated: Friday, 5 January 2007, 18:21 GMT
Head-to-head: Faith court case

A Christian student group is taking its fight to regain the use of union facilities to the High Court.

Exeter University Students' Guild says that the Christian Union is breaking its equal opportunities policy by asking members to sign up to a list of beliefs. The Christian Union accuses the Guild of threatening its right to freedom of expression.

STEVE GIBSON

Exeter University Students' Guild

In common with many other student unions we have an equal opportunities policy that says all activities must be open to everyone at all levels, from joining to running a society. It's one of the founding principles of our students' union.

Bishop (generic)
The Church of England has become involved in the row

This all started because we had a motion from a Christian who was not happy about being asked to sign a 10-point list of beliefs. I'm also a Christian and I would not want to sign that list either, because I don't agree with all the points on it.

The group changed its name to the Evangelical Christian Union. But an equal opportunities audit of our societies led to a temporary suspension from union facilities, like the free use of meeting rooms and the ability to apply for a budget.

We have been portrayed as very harsh but we haven't suspended them from everything, for example they still get health and safety protection.

It's purely a case of equal opportunities
Steve Gibson

We would like to resolve this without going to court. We are looking for a clear route by which anyone could become a leader of the society without having to sign a statement of beliefs. That's our ultimate goal.

We obviously have other religious groups but they don't ask their members to sign up to a statement of beliefs that is written into their constitution.

"It's purely a case of equal opportunities. We don't have a problem with groups asking members to sign a statement of beliefs as a way of affirming their commitment, but to make it compulsory is against our policy of ensuring equal access and equal opportunities for all students.

We're still hoping it won't go to court. We're hoping to move things forward on Monday when students return from the Christmas holidays.

BEN MARTIN

Exeter University Evangelical Christian Union

Obviously going to court is the last thing we want to do but we feel that our fundamental right to freedom of expression, belief and association are being threatened here.

We are quite prepared to stand up for our freedoms which is why we are going to court.

We ask members to sign a simple statement that says they declare Jesus Christ to be their Lord, Saviour and God. And to lead the society we ask people to agree to a 10-point doctrinal basis which states the core political beliefs of the Christian faith.

I'm not aware that any other Exeter groups have similar obligations but at other universities other faith groups, for example Islamic groups, have a simple statement of faith.

We believe our rights have been violated
Ben Martin

It's important to note that our society does not stop anyone coming to any meetings at any time. Anyone is free to come to any meeting, regardless of religion or none.

I'm not aware of any other groups on the Exeter campus (that have a statement of faith) but there are some in other parts of the country.

We believe that our fundamental rights of belief, association and freedom of expression have been violated and infringed so we are quite prepared to stand up for these freedoms.

I hope that people will see sense on that and that we will be able to hang on to these freedoms, which are so precious to us.



SEE ALSO
Evangelical students 'suppressed'
08 Dec 06 |  Education

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