The National Union of Students (NUS) and the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) today launched joint guidance to help students' unions and Christian unions manage good local relationships. The guidance comes after tensions between these groups in 2006.
The guidance, drafted and agreed by the NUS and UCCF, with mediating advice from the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), is in line with the law, university regulations, union regulations and the democratic principles of liberty, equality and respect for diversity - the NUS said in a press release today.
Gemma Tumelty, NUS National President declared: "These guidelines are a genuine step forward for positive interfaith relations on campuses across the UK. NUS greatly values the contribution that faith societies make to campus life and we are absolutely committed to helping SUs and CUs work together to resolve any issues that they both may have."
She added: "We hope that these guidelines help in those few instances where students' unions and Christian unions have had problems, whilst reinforcing the excellent relations that the rest have."
The Rev Richard Cunningham, director of UCCF, which helps coordinate the activities of evangelical Christian Unions, added: "In the vast majority of universities and colleges up and down the country, the CUs play an active and valued role within the students' union - indeed, they are often the largest society on campus.
"We hope these guidelines will help in the vary rare cases where certain student guilds have had difficulty understanding the deeply held convictions of the members of the CU, and will also help CUs play an even more active and productive role as members of the SU", he added.
Last year student unions were mired in threats of legal action by some involved in Christian Unions.
The Christian think tank Ekklesia, which urged cooperation rather than confrontation, and produced a report (United We Stand) suggesting mediation instead of the use of courts to resolve the arguments, today welcomed the new guidelines.
"What is encouraging is not just the guidelines themselves, but the way in which they have come about through joint conversation", said Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow.
"Issues of free speech and responsible relations in diverse institutions like colleges and universities are a real challenge when people of faith and other life stances often have very different outlooks," he declared.
"But we can all agree that litigation and confrontation is no way forward. Instead we need dialogue and a common commitment to move forward in spite of differences, with real respect for equality."
Moussa Haddad, Policy Officer for the Race, Religion and Belief, Equality Challenge Unit added: "Equality Challenge Unit is delighted to have worked with NUS and UCCF in developing these important guidelines, and that agreement has now been reached. We are confident that they will encourage the amicable resolution of disputes that may arise on occasion between students' unions and Christian unions, helping to ensure that they can both continue to make positive contributions to campus life."
Christian Unions are evaneglical bodies that exist on campus alongside the broad-church Student Christian movement, Christian denominational societies, Islamic, Jewish and other faith networks, and humanists and secularists.
The NUS/UCCF/ECU guidance can be found in Adobe Acrobat (*.PDF) form at http://resource.nusonline.co.uk/media/resource/nusuccfecuguidlines.pdf
The Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) is in the process of developing more general guidance for students' unions and leaders of student societies.
ECU is also launching religion and belief dialogue groups, which will inform approaches to religion and belief in the higher education sector, leading to regular fact sheets and topical briefings. http://www.ecu.ac.uk/about/strategy.htm
The National Union of Students represents the interests of some 5 million students.