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Potential threat to freedom of speech in university CUs

Re. The Prevent duty consultation document

UCCF understands the responsibility our government has to implement adequate Counter-Terrorism and Security measures to protect its citizens and appreciate that curbing the radicalisation of students forms part of these measures.

As such we will encourage Christian Unions (CUs) to cooperate as fully as is practicable since we all have a shared duty to prevent dangerous people coming onto our campuses.

Nevertheless, we do have some very real concerns about the potential unintended consequences when applying the proposed ‘Prevent duty guidance’ measures, as does Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights which objected to these proposed requirements for universities.

The draft ‘Prevent duty guidance’ will mean that all external speakers will be screened during a 14 day (minimum) notice period in which advance outlines of topics and PowerPoint presentations will be subjected to censorship by university authorities.

Given that this is a Counter -Terrorism measure, what possible security benefit can be gained from requesting personal details of Christian speakers and outlines of their talks when they speak at carol services and the like?

CU speakers are already required not to stray beyond a ‘mere Christianity’ and to give written consent to the CUs that they adhere to the orthodox, historic formularies of Christian faith and will not insist on any sectarian or denominational distinctives outside of this. This has worked very well for the past 90 years in which there have been no known incidents of CU meetings being used to radicalise students. The basic tenets of the Christian faith have nothing to do with terrorism, so what possible justification can there be for jeopardising time-honoured freedoms in an attempt to counter Islamist threats?

Even more concerning is the proposal that a ‘risk assessment’ must be made on whether a meeting should be cancelled altogether, or compelled to include an opposing speaker or (even more chilling) ‘someone in the audience to monitor the event’.

Rather than be transparently specific about the nature of Islamist rhetoric this ‘Prevent duty guidance’ speaks of an Institution’s obligation to promote ‘British values’. Such broad guidelines could easily be used by secular or religious people within our universities as an opportunity to censor or even ban any aspects of a CU’s programme they happen not to like or simply disagree with. Surely a significant British value is a commitment to freedom of speech and a tolerance of other people’s views: far from promoting British values, the proposals as they stand open the door to the curtailment of freedom of speech and the facilitation of intolerance.

 

We would encourage staff, students and supporters to write to their MP as soon as possible to raise these concerns. You can find your MP on the Parliament website.

Responses to the consultation document itself can be received no later than noon on the 30 January 2015. Download a PDF of The Prevent duty: consultation document.

 

We greatly appreciate your prayerful support in this serious matter.

Yours faithfully,

 

Reverend John Lenton,
Chairman of UCCF Board of Trustees

Reverend Richard Cunningham,
Director of UCCF: The Christian Unions

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