Senior members of Balliol College’s student committee banned a Christian group from attending the Oxford college’s freshers’ fair after claiming it could lead to “potential for harm to freshers” because Christianity was ‘damaging’ and ‘an excuse for homophobia and neo-Colonialism’.
In a leaked email chain obtained by Oxford’s independent student newspaper Cherwell, Junior Common Room (JCR) Vice-President Freddy Potts stated that the college body wanted the freshers’ fair to be a “secular space” following “concerns raised” by the college’s student welfare representatives.
The move caused outrage amongst the college’s members who called it an attack on free speech and freedom of religion.
According to the university newspaper, the vice-president attempted to prevent any Christian Union (CU) representation at the first-year students’ fair altogether, then allowed for a ‘multifaith’ stall – at which no member of a religious society was allowed to attend or speak to students.
The move was allegedly agreed to by the faith group, according to Balliol College president Hubert Au, in comments described as “misleading” by a CU representative.
In the internal email exchange, Potts justified the ban by telling CU: “We recognise the wonderful advantages in having CU representatives at the Fresher’s Fair, but are concerned that there is potential for harm to freshers who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford.”
“Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism,” he added.
In reaction to the ban, the college’s students unanimously passed a JCR motion on Sunday accusing the JCR leadership of “barring the participation of specific faith-based organisations” and described the step as “a violation of free speech [and] a violation of religious freedom”.
Balliol College, one of Oxford’s oldest colleges, was founded in 1263 under the guidance of the Bishop of Durham.
Chief Executive of Christian Concern Andrea Williams told MailOnline: “The leading institution in the world founded on Christian principles is forgetting its great history.
“In Christianity, there has been freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom to believe and manifest belief.
“It is the student union that is rewriting history and using cheap smears to spread falsehoods with regards to Christianity.”