An Oxford University college banned members of the Christian Union (CU) from its freshers’ fair, claiming that Christianity is used as an “excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neocolonialism”.
One of the organisers of last week’s fair at Balliol College, Freddy Potts, claimed that the presence of CU members would be “alienating” for students and constitutes “microaggression”.
The move led to a backlash from Balliol students who called it a “violation of free speech” and “religious freedom”. The organisers backed down and agreed to allow the CU to participate in future.
Student newspaper Cherwell uncovered an email exchange between Mr Potts, who is Vice President of Balliol’s Junior Common Room (JCR) committee, and a CU representative.
Potts wrote that: “the presence of the CU alone may alienate incoming students” and constitute “microaggression”, before adding that Christianity “is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neocolonialism.”
The JCR committee eventually offered to allow them to include Christian literature on an unmanned multifaith stall at the fair, held last week – an offer which the CU declined.
The suggestion that contact with CU representatives could be “harmful” to freshers was slammed by Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute.
Mr Calvert said: “The idea that a little group of earnest Christian students presents some kind of threat is so wide of the mark it would be laughable were it not so serious.
“How can people be so ignorant about the religion that has bequeathed them so many of the rights and freedoms denied to millions of people across the world in countries with no Christian heritage?
“The JCR claimed to be acting on behalf of new students who were ‘struggling to feel welcome in Oxford’. So how are Christian students meant to feel welcome in Oxford when their own student leaders are telling them they are potentially harmful to others?”
Angry students passed a unanimous motion accusing their student leaders of “barring the participation of specific faith-based organisations”.
The backlash forced a climb down from the JCR committee who eventually agreed to let religious groups be represented at future fairs.
A spokesman for the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union told the Institute that they are “pleased” with the outcome.
Balliol College also said it was pleased “the students themselves have now resolved this matter”, claiming that “Balliol is a tolerant, friendly college where students of all faiths and none are free to worship and express their beliefs openly”.
Balliol was founded in 1263 by John de Balliol and is one of Oxford’s oldest colleges. Famous alumni include John Wycliffe, the first person to translate the Bible into English.