Having put quite a bit of time into unravelling the issues between the Students’ Union and Christian Union in Reading, I was dismayed to see The Times today reporting that some Christian Unions in the UK are considering legal action against the Student Unions on their campuses because:
Christian Unions claim that they are being singled out as a “soft target” by student associations because they refuse to allow non-Christians to address their meetings or sit on ruling committees.
While each situation is different as it rests on the constitutions and practices of the various bodies, the points put forth in the article do little to suggest that the CUs are being victimised. They are rather the most visible group on most campuses to not fit within most SUs’ equal opportunities policies or democratic and financial systems.
One of the key aggravating factors in our experience was the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship who often seemed to be the source of scare stories (which I never saw corroborated) of CUs that have been hijacked by other groups, and purported ‘legal advice’ about the relationships between CUs and SUs that massively misunderstood the issues we had found to be central. I’ve not had any contact with that organisation in a few years now, but at the time I couldn’t help but feel there were individuals within it who relished confrontation.
We (Martin did a lot of the work) tried to come to an understanding about the two bodies’ relationship on our campus and found that the main issues were not the expected hot buttons, but were more about whether the CU actually wanted to be an SU society, whether they were willing to hold open elections, and whether their financial management was compatible with ours.
That process allowed us to agree that for the CU membership in the SU was not vital, and that the SU could nevertheless provide some facilities to the CU because of the two organisations’ friendship (given certain provisos).
The press reports leading up to today’s news have certainly lacked clarity. Hopefully the CUs will step back from the brink and some new arrangements can be made that step round the current confrontation.
Update (4th Dec 2006): For clarity, at the time of these conversations I was a post-graduation sabbatical officer of RUSU and Martin was a non-sabbatical officer. I was never a member of the CU but attended a number of meetings and had many friends who were members. We have both now left the university.