Christian students in legal battle
According to the BBC, this is the first case of religious discrimination to go to law in the education world. Cranmer finds their memory faulty, recalling the relatively recent case brought by a Muslim girl against her school over its uniform policy which was deemed to hinder her freedom to express her religion. The judgement went in the girl’s favour, though the ruling was not at all clear in what should be expected of schools. It states that schools have a right to uniform policies, but also that students have a right to disregard them.
The judgement in the case of the Exeter Martyrs could be ground-breaking. If there were to be a full judicial review, they are likely to refer to Section 13 of the Human Rights Act which specifically protects religious organisations, permitting them to believe and practise as their orthodoxy demands. Yet the Act also demands equality of access to such clubs by those who may not believe in or adhere to such orthodoxy; one may no longer discriminate on the grounds of gender, sexuality, or religious belief. And yet alongside the prohibition of discrimination is the defence of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the freedom of expression, and the freedom of assembly and association. For a Christian Union - indeed, for any Christian group - the regulations of koinonia (communion, coming together, fellowship) are determined by Scripture, and the believer is exhorted to examine his or her own heart in the participation thereof. If koinonia be in any sense assembly or association, it must be permitted the freedom to manifest itself in accordance with Christian teachings and traditions.
It is therefore highly significant that a Court will be faced with a clash of competing equalities, and will be asked to determine which group is the more equal. It is inconceivable to Cranmer that a Christian group will be forced to permit those who lead it to be deviant from its doctrinal statement of faith. The demand is no different from a Christian minister having to subscribe to the orthodoxy of the Nicene Creed. Atheists are not (yet) queuing up to be ministers of religion, but the courts are not likely to force churches to permit them to lead their organisations.
Cranmer has two final thoughts:
Firstly, unless the Guild of Students ceases the harassment of Christians and the hindrance of their freedom of association, they should be referred to the Charities Commission.
Secondly, it might be considered that the CU is possibly the only organisation on campus that exists primarily for the benefit of its non-members…