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Oxford College Bans Christian Union from Freshers’ Fair, Calling it ‘Alienating’

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The organizers of this year’s fair at Balliol College — an Oxford school — have banned the Christian Union from participating out of concerns of alienating those of other religions.

The organizers said Christianity has been historically used as “an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism,” and that students — particularly those of other faiths — might feel “unwelcome” and offended if the Christian Union were given a stall.

Balliol College fair organizers have made it clear: No Christian influence allowed at this year’s event. Why? It might offend those of other religions. Imagine if the same were said to those of the Islam faith.

Can you imagine if the school banned a booth organized by Muslims?

The Express has the story:

Freddy Potts, vice-president of Balliol’s Junior Common Room (JCR) committee, said the presence of a CU representative at the fair could cause “potential harm” to freshers.

He told Lucy Talbot, the College’s CU representative, their “sole concern is that the presence of the CU alone may alienate incoming students”.

Balliol, founded in 1263, boasts an impressive alumni, including three former prime ministers – Herbert Asquith, Harold Macmillan and Sir Edward Heath.

In an email to Ms Talbot, Mr Potts, who was part of the College’s champion University Challenge team in April, wrote: “This sort of alienation or micro-aggression is regularly dismissed as not important enough to report, especially when there is little to no indication that other students or committee members may empathise, and inevitably leads to further harm of the already most vulnerable and marginalised groups.

“Historically, Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”

He claimed banning the group from the fair “may be a way of helping to avoid making any students feel initially unwelcome within Balliol”.

Mr Potts swiftly changed his tune after initially saying the JCR committee wanted the fair to be a “secular space” as he “couldn’t guarantee every major belief system” would have a stall at the fair, so students of other religions may “suffer” if they were not represented.

He added: ““Many students, especially students of colour and of other faiths, may already feel alienated and vulnerable in Oxford, a university with a reputation for racism and lack of diversity, and a city with barely any appropriate places of worship for non-Christians.

“Hopefully, as people of faith, you may be able to empathise with this, and we ask you to consider from a place of compassion the potential harm to those freshers who are already severely and harmfully disadvantaged.”

He later changed his mind and said he would allow a “multi-faith” stall at the fair.

However, CU students were still banned from physically attending and distributing leaflets.

Students have criticised the College, saying the move is a “violation of free speech”.

Dr Joanna Williams, a university lecturer and author of Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity, said: “I would argue that a university would be an ideal place for students to explore their religious beliefs.

“The idea that some religions are not allowed to be represented really prevents students being able to do that. It seems completely bizarre, I am lost for words.”

The JCR passed a motion on Sunday evening condemning the committees for “barring the participation of specific faith-based organisations”.

They said the ban was a “violation of free speech, a violation of religious freedom, and sets dangerous precedents regarding the relationship between specific faiths and religious freedom”.

A Balliol College spokesman said: “We are pleased to see that the students themselves have now resolved this matter. Following last night’s JCR motion, the Christian Union will be offered a stall at future freshers’ fairs.”

Despite the seemingly intolerant ban the spokesman described the college as ‘tolerant’.

“Balliol is a tolerant, friendly college where students of all faiths and none are free to worship and express their beliefs openly.”

In January the University of Oxford refused to bow to demands from student campaigners calling for the removal of all statues, especially the Cecil Rhodes statue at Oriel College, and paintings, and renaming of buildings named after colonialist figures.

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