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Religion

Anger as Oxford college bans Christian group from freshers fair, citing ‘potential harm’ to new students

‘Christianity’s influence ... is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 2:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 2:55pm

A University of Oxford college banned Christian Union representatives from attending its freshers fair over concerns at the “potential for harm to freshers”.

Balliol Christian Union was told Balliol College’s student body, the JCR, wanted the freshers fair for new students to be a “secular space”, according to Oxford’s student newspaper Cherwell.

Eventually the CU was told that a single multi-faith stall would be allowed to display leaflets, though no representatives would be allowed to staff it, according to leaked emails seen by the paper. Balliol CU boycotted this option.

The decision has caused anger at Balliol, where a motion was reportedly passed unanimously accusing the JCR committee of “barring the participation of specific faith-based organisations” and describing the step as “a violation of free speech [and] a violation of religious freedom”. The motion prohibited the barring of official religious societies from future freshers’ fairs.

Freedom of religion and belief is a fundamental principle that underpins our country and its great institutions and universities
The Reverend Nigel Genders

In an email exchange, JCR vice-president Freddy Potts, on behalf of the JCR committee, reportedly told a CU representative: “We recognise the wonderful advantages in having CU representatives at the freshers’ fair, but are concerned that there is potential for harm to freshers who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford.”

According to the paper, he added: “Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”

In a Facebook post, JCR president Hubert Au said the decision to have a multi-faith stall rather than a specific CU stall, was reached “in light of both concerns raised by members [of the Welfare sub committee] and by an undergraduate survey conducted last term, which indicated a lack of familiarity as to where non-Christian societies, events and services were located”, the paper reported.

“We didn’t want to monopolise the presence of any individual faith/belief society at the Balliol freshers fair.”

Potts and Au made no immediate comment.

The Reverend Nigel Genders, the Church of England’s chief education officer, said: “Freedom of religion and belief is a fundamental principle that underpins our country and its great institutions and universities.

“Christian Unions represent some of the largest student led organisations in many universities across the country and to exclude them in this way is to misunderstand the nature of debate and dialogue and at odds with the kind of society we are all seeking to promote.”