A pro-life student university group has launched a legal challenge against the University of Aberdeen after its attempts at affiliation were repeatedly rejected by the Students’ Union based on their policy barring pro-life societies on campus.
The case is part of a disturbing trend across over 100 UK universities where reportedly 43% of have implemented speech codes and policies which limit religious expression. Evidence also shows that no less than 108 universities in the UK have actively censored free speech; or have done so through over-regulation. On the abortion issue, there have also been specific cases of pro-life societies being censored at Glasgow and Strathclyde universities.
In April 2018, the Aberdeen Life Ethics Society (ALES) submitted a new society application for affiliation to Aberdeen University’s Societies Union Committee (AUSA). Yet in November 2017 AUSA had implemented an “AUSA is Pro-Choice” policy which required the union to give “no funding, facilitation, or platform” to any pro-life group and forbids the “unreasonable display” of pro-life material on campus. When AUSA received the application from the pro-life group they said it could only be considered in the new term. In October 2018 ALES subsequently received the following email:
We unfortunately are unable to affiliate Aberdeen Life Ethics Society as you are directly against an AUSA policy and so we are not allowed to affiliate you. The policy in question can be found here: https://www.ausa.org.uk/resources/6045/AUSA-is-Pro-Choice/ and does not lapse until 2020.
This is despite Aberdeen University’s policy on Religion and Belief, and in particular its statement on ethics and diversity, stating: “The University is also committed to providing a learning, working and social environment in which the rights and dignity of all its members are respected, and which is free from discrimination, prejudice, intimidation and all forms of harassment and bullying.”
For the next seven months, ALES made every reasonable effort to understand and challenge why their application was being rejected but were met with repeated obstruction and delay which again resulted in the repeated rejection of their application.
Now, with support from the Christian Legal Centre, ALES are taking legal action on the grounds of discrimination.
Alex Mason, a PHD student and member of the Aberdeen Life and Ethics society, said: “The issue began during student elections when some candidates were strongly expressing their commitment to abortion rights. I tried to ask a question at the election hustings on why the right to choose an abortion trumps the right of a baby to live and was told: ‘We don’t need to answer the question’ because of AUSA’s “pro-choice” policy. One sabbatical officer even called campus security once I finally managed to ask the question. I knew then that something had to be done.
“Universities should foster free debate and discussion over important ethical issues like abortion. Unfortunately, there is a lot of social pressure on young people to conform to the pro-abortion viewpoint. For many of us, our pro-life beliefs were forged from our understanding of gestational science, as well as our Christian faith. The ability to express these beliefs must be protected.”
Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “Is this what we want in our universities that should be environments of open learning, thinking and debate? Through this policy a small number of students at Aberdeen University are representing the interests and diverse beliefs of nearly 14,500 students and have re-cast the Students’ Association as a pro-abortion campaigning organisation.
“The case at this university alone is appalling, but it is part of a disturbing and snowballing trend across the UK where student unions are pushing, not just the abortion debate, but a number of issues, in one direction. How are students supposed to hear the case for the human right of the pre-born person if debate is shut down? University authorities have to step in and do more to protect free speech and freedom of religion on our university campuses.
“We will stand with ALES as they continue to fight for justice in this case.”