Cold Shoulder for CU at Freshers’ Fair

The decision by a student group in Oxford to ban a Christian Union from a freshers’ event is a challenge to Christians as much as it contradicts the idea of free speech.

Oxford University’s Balliol College Junior Common Room has been criticised for a decision to ban CU representatives from participating in the college’s Freshers’ Fair over concerns at the ‘potential for harm’ to first-year students. It seems that the student body that oversees the event wanted it to be a ‘secular space’. The CU was told that it could display leaflets on an unmanned multi-faith stall but not exhibit in person, an offer that the CU rejected. Following a huge outcry at this denial of freedom of speech, the JCR backed down and has now said that religious groups may be represented at future fairs.

There is a danger of overreacting to this story as it was a decision of a relatively small group not representing the view of the College as such. But it does signify something of a trend, both in universities and in society, to view Christians as dangerously outspoken.

This raises the question about whether the state can ever be ‘neutral’. Is there such a thing as a secular state that can benignly allow freedom of speech and thought without introducing some bias? In this case, the real principles of liberal democracy were discarded and a form of censorship introduced, but is this really surprising? There has never been a society that truly allows free speech and as we become less influenced by Christian values the lines will be drawn in different places.

But we should also be challenged why a group of students has a sense that churches were unwelcoming and imperialistic. They were wrong to assume this but are we giving them just cause? Are we as notoriously inclusive as Jesus, who was often criticised for being too welcoming? We want to uphold Christ’s teaching and contend for the truth, but at the same time we want to show that we love and accept people where they are right now.

Graham Nicholls


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