Oxford college lifts ban on Christian Union at freshers' fair after backlash

An Oxford University college has backtracked on its decision to ban the Christian Union from its freshers' fair after it received condemnation and criticism, saying it is a tolerant school where students are welcome to express their beliefs and practice their faith openly.

(WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Ozeye)The front of Balliol College as viewed from Broad Street, looking west. 4 July 2009.

Last week, students at Balliol College decided to block Christian Union representatives from their freshers' fair because they wanted to keep the event "safe and secular." Student paper Cherwell spotted a leaked email in which JCR vice president Freddy Potts raised concern over the "potential for harm" for freshmen who have difficulty integrating into Oxford. He also said the presence of the union may alienate these pupils, Yahoo News UK relayed.

In addition, Potts slammed Christianity as a damaging belief because of its practices and methods of conversion. He also said the faith was being used as an "excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism," The Daily Mail reported.

However, Balliol reversed its decision after drawing condemnation over the Christian Union ban. Students said the ban violated their right to religious freedom and free speech and passed a motion prohibiting officials from barring official religious organizations from future freshers' fairs.

Church of England chief education officer Rev. Nigel Genders released a statement that emphasized the importance of freedom of religion and belief in their country. He also slammed the move to exclude Christian Unions in such an event.

Organizers of the freshers' fair have since reportedly allowed religious groups to participate in future events. They agreed to have a shared multifaith stall with leaflets but said there should be no representatives of religious organizations. JCR President Hubert Au said the plan went ahead, but the Christian Union took no part in the multifaith stall.

A spokeswoman for Christian Union confirmed that the matter has been "amicably resolved." She also noted that most student unions share a good relationship with them in Balliol.