Evangelicals initiate legal action despite removal of university 'ban'

By staff writers
10 Jan 2007

More questions are being raised about the agendas of Evangelical lobby and campaign groups in universities after it emerged that Exeter University's Evangelical Christian Union initiated legal action against its own students' union and university - although it was aware that the sanctions they were protesting against were no longer in force.

The student Guild banned the Evangelical Christian Union (ECU) and froze one of its bank accounts because it did not meet the Guild's equal opportunity code, in October.

As reported by Ekklesia, Evangelical lobby groups had been raising funds for a legal battle since then, and the CU rejected offers of mediation.

ECU council member, Ben Martin, brought the suit on January 5 and announced it to the media. He has now admitted however to the Times newspaper, that the religious group had been informed by the Guild that the temporary ban had lapsed and that all privileges had been reinstated.

In a press release he was previously quoted as saying that if the Guild reversed its decision and reinstated the CU as a full society, then he and others would meet with the Guild and look afresh at how its Equal Opportunities policies related to religious societies.

He has now told the Times that he feels the ban would be imposed again, despite the Guild's assurances that no decision had been taken. "Based on the experience of the past nine months, the ECU has no confidence or trust in the integrity of the Guild," he said. "We received no formal written confirmation of anything, all we had was a mobile phone conversation."

In October the ECU was temporarily banned while the Guild carried out an audit into their membership rules. The audit was completed and the suspension expired on December 12, the day before the university Christmas holiday. The ECU claims it was not told that this had occurred until January 4.

Jemma Percy, President of the Student Guild, insists that the ECU knew the ban was temporary and that the Guild was willing to discuss the situation with the ECU before taking any action. "We were happy to negotiate, and continue carrying on a constructive dialogue," she said. "We made an offer to skip all the back-and-forth letter writing steps and call in someone external that all of us agreed on to review the case. We only became aware of this suit through the media."

The offer of mediation followed the publication of a report on the situation by the thinktank Ekklesia which recommended such a course of action. The report was publicly welcomed by the National Union of Students (NUS).

The report raised questions about the role of Evangelical lobby and campaign groups external to the Evangelical Christian Union, and their agendas. It suggested that their involvement could be escalating the conflict rather than contributing to its resolution.

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