Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Exeter Christian Union told: Muslims should be able to join

Update: this judgement sounds like a farce. For the original story, see here.

From Christian Concern for our Nation: Independent Adjudicator Mark Shaw QC says Muslims should be able to head up the Christian Union at Exeter University

Ben Martin, the Christian student at the centre of the Exeter University Student Guild row over the Human Rights of members of the Christian Union, has today rejected the Independent Adjudication into the case as "unbalanced and selective". He will be seeking a Judicial Review in the High Court.

Mark Shaw QC, the independent adjudicator appointed by Exeter University Strongly criticised the Constitution of Exeter CU because it restricted the membership to Christians, despite the fact its meetings were open to everyone – of all faiths and none. He held it discriminatory that the CU should be run by Christians and held that the Guild policies in forcing the CU to be led by members open to other faiths was "laudable".

Last year, the Student Guild forced the Exeter Christian Union to change its name to Exeter 'Evangelical' Christian Union following one complaint (in a 50 year period) by a student. The Guild also froze the CUs bank account and wrote to them banning them from holding or advertising events on Guild premises.

On January 5, Ben Martin, a member of the Christian Union filed papers at the High Court asking for a Judicial Review of the Guild's actions under the Human Rights Act. He was subsequently informed that the University would require the CU to go through an informal internal adjudication procedure before any external procedure could be followed.

First, the University tried to impose a leading lawyer with strong connections to the National Union of Students on the CU as adjudicator. The process was then delayed to after Easter (a time when students are revising or sitting exams). Following complaints, the University brought in another barrister, this time a QC, Mark Shaw (there is no obligation to appoint a barrister, only an independent person of standing in the community).

Ben Martin said: "The university established an internal appeals process to resolve the dispute and the CU engaged with the process in full seeking a non judicial resolution of the dispute. Out of primarily public funds, the university and Guild had access to leading firms of solicitors and barristers (including QCs) whilst the CU were denied all such assistance.

"Mr Shaw determined that the process should be 'legal' rather than informal as is usually the case, and also decided that the process should deal with substantive and procedural issues of law. He also stated that the CU should be prepared to pay the costs of the university and Guild which could have been more than £50,000."

When the CU complained at the legalised process, asked for an informal process without lawyers and that they should not be subject to costs, Mr Shaw refused.

Mr Martin said: "Any criticism of this process by the CU resulted in a sharp response from Mr Shaw, together with claims that the CU was uncooperative. Only when the CU refused to continue with a process that could bankrupt them, was there a guarantee of no costs.

"Mr Shaw held that the Guild were 'laudable' in their aims, the University had no responsibility for the discrimination against Christians, and that the CU was wrong to require that those leading the CU should be Christians. That position, he said, could be held by anyone of any faith or none, provided they agree to the objectives of the CU!

"In paragraph 92 (4) of his adjudication, Mr Shaw even goes on to suggest that on the Exeter University campus, the 'Welsh Society should be open to Scottish members; the wine society open to teetotal members, the choral society should be open to non-singing members, and the cheerleading society should be open to male members ...'

"Quite frankly, reading this from a QC, you don't know whether to laugh or cry! I would advise any student who wants to use the 'informal' adjudication process to be prepared to face QCs and potential costs beyond their means.

"I fully co-operated with Mr Shaw and he has treated my fundamental rights of religious association and belief in a derisory fashion. Issues of religious association and freedom of speech are fundamental human rights and not ones on
which I, or the CU is prepared to compromise."

The CU at Exeter has always said that taking the matter to Court would be a last resort, but in light of the Independent Adjudication from Mr Shaw, the CU finds itself in a position where it has no other option by to instruct the Human Right's barrister Paul Diamond to instigate Judicial Review proceedings against the University and Guild.

21 comments:

onthesideoftheangels said...

Greenwich University [1994]
The christian prayer room forced to become an 'oecumenical' room [This was mainly at the request of a couple of 'Jews for Jesus'].
Most faiths got on really well but the moment the muslims were permtted to pray there they hijacked the room and demanded it for themselves; declaring it was sacrilegious to their faith to share a room of prayer.

Out of fear the authorities complied and it became a Muslim prayer room - Christians were told they would have to find a local church with an amenable pastor if they wished to continue their prayer group.

sic transit gloria mundi

Anonymous said...

Rather than publishing propaganda in support of Exeter Evangelical Christian Union, a CATHOLIC blog would do well to ask some of the CATHOLICS at Exeter University what their opinion of the current situation is.

That fact of the matter is that the ECU at Exeter has for many years denied the Christianity of Catholics on Campus. Catholic students at this year have often found themselves bullied and ridiculed by the society because they are not Evangelicals.

Please do some research into such issues rather than believing the first press release to come your way.

Webmaster said...

Anonymous: you are missing the point of this post. As we explained at the beginning of this story, here,

"'Christian Union' societies at British universities are often anti-Catholic. However, the persecution of these groups because of their views on sexuality is a worrying sign, and seems to be becoming widespread."

To ignore the difficulties of religious groups with whom we have difficulties would be to pretty stupid. The people who are persecuting the Evangelicals think Catholics are just as bad, or even worse.

We should be grown up enough to accept that hard-core Evangelicals sincerely think Catholics are nbot 'Christians', and that we think that they are not part of the Christian Church, come to that. You should read Fr Finnigan on ecumenism, here.

Tim said...

Just to make this clear:
At Exeter Uni, Christians are allowed to join the Muslim society, Muslims the Jewish society, Methodists the Catholic society, if they want to. They are also allowed to stand for committee positions, though getting voted in could be a challenge. None of these groups have any problem with this arrangement. None have ever suffered or feared any kind of 'takeover'.
Only the (E)CU has problems with this arrangement, less because of a real possibility, more because their membership of the UCCF requires them to have certain things in their constitution. Then again, if they insist on calling themselves the "Christian Union", maybe the dreadful threat of Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and other Christians joining is a real worry.

Secondly, as Mark Shaw makes clear, the tone of his mediation was set by the complaint from the ECU. This was a direct copy of Ben Martin's complaint to the High Court, something written by lawyers for judges. So is it any surprise he focused on legal & procedural issues? Not that I don't think it's a shame it went this way, but Ben Martin & the ECU hardly have grounds to complain about it.

Thirdly, you reference the "persecution" of Christian groups because of their views on sexuality. This may be relevant to other universities, but it's not really to Exeter; I've not seen even the ECU claim otherwise.
Incidentally, your previous article contains a number of mistakes, which I may now go and flag up on there.

Webmaster said...

Tim: we're grateful for this information; we don't have the resources to look into these things at local level.

We have never called for readers to take action on these CU issues; news is posted for information only.

For reasons of their own, Evangelicals seem to like exclusive groups. Evangelical universities in the US, for example, sometimes require job applicants to make a statement of faith. This isn't something other religious groups tend to do. So what? The key question is: is the Evangelical approach a breach of justice? The answer is 'No', because it is simply a matter of freedom of association. If they want a group with only evangelicals, why should anyone stop them?

Freedom of association is a hot issue. If any serious Catholic organisation wanted to be staffed only by faithful Catholics, they'd run into the same problems. When Catholic schools object to staff members remarrying after divorce, they do run into the same problems. The policy of this blog is to watch developments; I hope you agree that is a sensible thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Webmaster wrote "The policy of this blog is to watch developments; I hope you agree that is a sensible thing to do."

But do you not agree that if "watching developments" involves publishing press releases from an Evangelical organisation at Exeter, whilst failing to publish any information relating to the feelings of the other Christian groups at Exeter, for example the Catholic Society, the result will be a very skewed picture of the situation.

Freedom of association may be a hot issue, but it is not the relevant issue at Exeter. The issue at Exeter is one of false advertising and it is an issue which the Catholic Society has never had a single problem with, but which the Evangelical Christian Union feels the need to sue the entire student body over.

Webmaster said...

Send me your press releases, and if they are relevant to the interests of this blog, we'll publish 'em.

As for freedom of association, if you don't see the connection between these stories, we'll have to agree to differ.

Tim said...

Xnet news generally has its facts right on this subject, though I don't know quite how regularly it's updated. Ekklesia has some good stuff on this issue if you look around a little. Doesn't seem to have updated on this particular issue, but this is on the subject, and will link you to other stuff.

Basically, be aware that the UCCF and ECU have their own very particular spin on this issue - that it's a secular attack on christianity - that has been taken up uncritically in too many places I've seen. There are numerous things on the net, and even in mainstream media, effectively reproducing ECU, UCCF and ACL reports/press releases, containing the same viewpoint, distortion and inaccuracies that often seem a lot like outright lies.

"The key question is: is the Evangelical approach a breach of justice?"
No. The key questions are: is the ECU's approach a breach Guild rules? Are Guild rules a breach of justice?

The answer to the former is clearly yes. To answer the second, ask, do they lose any substantive freedom? The society can still control its leaders through elections. It can still expel any member who is disruptive (though the processes for actually doing this may be unclear). It could even (as suggested in the mediation) require committee members to make a commitment to the society's aims and constitution. (Different from requiring a statement of belief in them.)

What makes this all close to a farce is that the practical effects of changing the constitution are so minor - both systems adequately guarantee the society's identity, goals and so-on. The argument is over whether Guild rules should be changed because a society wants to do things a particular way.

On the name change issue, it's worth noting that the ECU could have compromised and come up with a name that was not 'christian union' nor the 'evangelical christian union' that they seem to hate so much (not that they deny they're evangelicals and at least some members were in favour of the change). Of course, they didn't.

Webmaster said...

In my view, for what it is worth: I agree completely that the CU could have changed its rules and kept its character etc., and I wouldn't have encouraged them to fight this battle. But when these stubborn people fight it out you see some interesting things.

If you don't think that the CU rules were not a breach of justice, there could be no justification for the Guild forcing the issue down their throats. Indeed, I say it again, their freedom of association is at issue. Not the way I'd do it, but they way they, the CU, wanted to do it.

Tim said...

The argument about freedom of association goes both ways, because the ECU itself wants to be part of an association. Why should the ECU's rules trump the Guild's rules?

I do think there's something quite wrong in a group calling itself the Christian Union discriminating against the majority of people who consider themselves Christians. But if they were to be open about this (ie. a name change), I don't see their rules as an affront to justice.

But neither do I see the Guild rules as unjust, which is why this is all so silly as half of it's a battle between rules that are not really all that objectionable. You can understand, I hope, why the Guild wouldn't simply change its rules when it found a society that breached them without thorough justification. Especially when it's something sensitive and tricky to word like Equal Opps. A compromise could have been reached - the mediation suggests making changes to the society's constitution and changing the name back to CU - but the ECU have fought the general opinion and decisions of students as well as Guild rules tooth and nail the whole way.

Roger Pearse said...

Whoever this Mark Shaw QC may be, it seems that he's about as independent as a Nazi judge in the third reich. And how can one side in the dispute appoint an 'independent' adjudicator?! For the university authorities -- who seem to want to be nameless -- have consistently acted to attack the Christians.

The whole business is sinister, and smells of persecution. If the CU complies, it ceases to exist; if it does not, then that's enough of an excuse to persecute them for disobedience. But there is no indication that the demand is anything but a pretext.

It seems exactly like the policy of Diocletian; make a demand which you don't care about but which will cause your victim anguish whether he complies or not.

Some of those commenting seem to forget that Catholics too can be targetted by these rules; and will be. This threatens every Christian worth the name. The CU, in truth, are confessors, suffering for the name of Christ. Let us honour them before God.

I wish we knew who the supposedly Orthodox nark was who decided to initiate this persecution. Why should he be anonymous? On the contrary, he should be reported to his bishop and excommunicated for a heinous sin. What else can one call encouraging a Christian-hating institution to start thinking of ways to persecute Christians?

Ralph Olsson said...

Christian-hating? Persecution?

How can telling an group of students that they are not allowed to discriminate against Catholic Christians possibly constitute Christian-hating? How can telling them they are not allowed to persecute Orthodox Christians be said to constitute persecution of Christians? In what way does telling the society that they are not allowed to deny the Christianity of liberals simply because they are liberal cause the society anguish?

If there is any sign of hatred in this issue it is the hatred shown by some UCCF supporters to anyone who dares complain about the disgraceful way in which non-Evangelical Christians are treated by the organisation.

How dare you demand that I am excommunicated when the only thing I have done is make a complaint about a society denying my Christianity?

Anonymous said...

Roger wrote: "Some of those commenting seem to forget that Catholics too can be targetted by these rules; and will be."

Please elaborate. Given that the Catholic Society is already subject to these rules and abides by them happily, how can the society be targeted by them?

Given that the Catholic Society's membership is open to all students at the university, what does the society have to fear from a rule requiring that its membership is open to all students?

Given that the Catholic Society has always held open democratic elections to decide on its leadership, what does it have to fear from a rule requiring it to hold open democratic elections?

Answer: nothing. There is no threat to the Catholic Society from these rules. Just like your allegations that the university authorities "have consistently acted to attack the Christians" or that the institution is "Christian-hating", any consideration of the actual facts of what is going on in Exeter shows this allegation to be entirely fictional.

Tim said...

Why exactly does the CU cease to exist if it complies with this ruling? Every other society - such as the catholic society - follows the rules without problems.
(ps, the reason the student who started off this debate is 'nameless' is probably simply because the sources of this article are ignorant. The original letter which sparked this off was signed, and he's regularly been named in articles in the student newspaper about the subject. (yeah, I know his name's not actually on that link I posted; I couldn't be bothered to root through the archives to find it on the exeposé site.))

Let's just say it clearly once again: only one society at Exeter University has rules that exclude Christians from committee positions. (Hint: it's not the Jewish Society.)

Anonymous said...

"We should be grown up enough to accept that hard-core Evangelicals sincerely think Catholics are nbot 'Christians', and that we think that they are not part of the Christian Church, come to that."

Isn't anyone even slightly concerned by the idea that university and college 'Christian Unions' don't believe that Catholics are Christians?

Webmaster said...

Of course we're not concerned that they don't think Catholics are Christians. Who cares what they think? The point here is that a group is having problems with the authorities simply for holding a theological position. If holding certain theological positions means you can't have a student group, or a school, or a charity, and the people making the judgments are secular liberals, then Catholics are going to be in trouble sooner or later. Sticking our heads in the sand on this would be stupid.

Anonymous said...

Webmaster wrote: "The point here is that a group is having problems with the authorities simply for holding a theological position."

No it isn't, that is the UCCF telling porkies. Their theological position is irrelevant. The issue at Exeter has nothing to do with what the society believes. The issue at Exeter is that the society is breaking the rules of affiliation to the Guild, rules which every other religious society on campus, including the Catholic Society, have no problem in abiding by.

Webmaster wrote: "If holding certain theological positions means you can't have a student group, or a school, or a charity, and the people making the judgments are secular liberals, then Catholics are going to be in trouble sooner or later."

If that were the case then it would indeed be troubling, but it is not the case. There is no theological position which prevents anyone from having a society. The judgements are not being made by secular liberals; the vast majority of those involved are Christians. There is no way the Catholic Society can come into trouble because of these rules; they already abide by them and are happy to do so.

I really wish you would ask the Catholics on campus their view of the ECU's legal action rather than taking the word of the UCCF at face value. The contact details of the Catholic Chaplain can be found via the university website.

Tim said...

I think there's an even easier way to deal with the argument than that. We're against discrimination based on 'theological position' (whatever that is. can I have one?), right?
That's precisely what the ECU are doing - preventing students from joining or becoming committee members based on those students' 'theological position(s)' - and what the Guild have tried to stop.

Anonymous said...

To be honest I think the Christian Union have a point. Each group or committee has it's own criteria for membership so where's the problem? Personally, I think anyone should be able to join initially, if they've taken an interest in the club or group, but if you want a place on the committee or to become President then you should really have made the commitment to become Catholic/Christian/Muslim etc. That's not discrimination (a much abused word these days)it's just common sense. I think the thing is, various jobsworth bureaucrats like to enforce laws on those they perceive least able to fight back, and I hate to say it but Christianity does seem to be bullied and discriminated against quite a bit (can someone tell me I'm wrong or paranoid? I hope so as these are just my observations and not ones I particularly care for). Anyway, if a group or club has such "discriminatory" rules then people wouldn't want to join them in the first place. Let each club establish their own rules. It's their club, their choice, their decision. It's like not being allowed into a night club because I'm wearing trainers and then accusing the bouncers of discriminating against "trainer wearers". That's my take on things anyway...
Speaking of discrimination, and on a seperate issue, maybe the BNP (and I'm not a spokesperson for them. I dislike them as much as the next person. A sign of the times that I have to write such a disclaimer)could have a case of "discrimination" against the university because of the fact they weren't allowed their freedom of speech. While I think they should have been allowed to speak it was the university's choice not to let them and their decision has to be respected. Why not let the CU make theirs? A cynical person might think double standards were being practiced. So much for equal opportunities.
Sorry to go for so long.
Thanks

Ralph said...

anonymous,

I'd like to raise a few points based on what you have said.

"if you want a place on the committee or to become President then you should really have made the commitment to become Catholic/Christian/Muslim etc. That's not discrimination... it's just common sense".

The problem is that the people the Christian Union are banning from leadership are Christians. People who have made the commitment to become Christians are being banned from standing for election to the committee.

"I hate to say it but Christianity does seem to be bullied and discriminated against quite a bit (can someone tell me I'm wrong or paranoid? I hope so as these are just my observations and not ones I particularly care for)."

You're not wrong. Christians are being bullied and they are being discriminated against, but they are being bullied and discriminated against by the Christian Union, not by the Guild.

"Anyway, if a group or club has such "discriminatory" rules then people wouldn't want to join them in the first place."

Except that they are not being told about the discriminatory rules until long after they have joined and handed in their money.

"Let each club establish their own rules. It's their club, their choice, their decision... Why not let the CU make theirs? A cynical person might think double standards were being practiced. So much for equal opportunities."

But this is exactly the point. Yes, let the CU establish their own rules, but also let the Guild establish its own rules, and if the CU are unwilling to follow those rules then they should leave the Guild. The only double standards come when the CU says to the Guild "we have a right to ban Christians from leadership if we disagree with their beliefs, but you do not have a right to ban us from Guild membership if you disagree with our elections policy".

Ross said...

Rather late in the day, I know, but I feel I ought to point out that when I was at Exeter (2003-2006) the Christian Union was forced to change its name to the Evangelical Christian Union. This was because its members and in particular its committee were required to sign a statement of faith that excluded Catholics, Anglican and Orthodox Christians. They are hardly the most representative bunch.

Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St Michael

Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down to Hell Satan, and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen