In its 3rd week meeting on Sunday the LMH JCR debated whether or not to voice its dissent to the potential hosting of the conservative Christian organisation Christian Concern. The debate was consultative and the governing body will make its final decision in 4th week but the JCR voted to oppose Christian Concern with 81 votes for, 8 against and 2 abstentions.
Christian Concern wishes to use LMH to host its residential camp for young people, Wilberforce Academy, which aims to “train and equip the invited students on what it means to proclaim Christ in public life”. The organisation holds controversial positions, including stances against homosexuality, abortion and what it calls the threat of “Islamic finance” to the West. Christian Concern have protested abortion clinics and its founder Andrea Williams believes in the criminalisation of homosexuality.
Preventing Christian Concern from hosting its camp at LMH may violate the college’s obligation to freedom of speech. LMH’s adopted position is that “Free speech is the lifeblood of a university. It enables the pursuit of knowledge. It helps us approach truth… Recognising the vital importance of free expression for the life of the mind, a university may make rules concerning the conduct of debate but should never prevent speech that is lawful. Inevitably, this will mean that members of the University/College are confronted with views that some find unsettling, extreme or offensive”.
LMH’s obligations under PREVENT legislation mean that the college must endeavour to “secure and protect free expression and academic freedom, recognising the primacy of these values in institutions of higher education”. LMH has previously hosted a widely-condemned homeopathy conference in accordance with this policy on free speech.
In the debate President Joshua Tulloch made it clear that the JCR’s statement did not oppose the group on the grounds of their views alone, but also because there was a worry that the nature of the views are such that there is a risk of people feeling intimidated. Members of the JCR who spoke in the debate recognised Christian Concern as a “real threat to the physical and mental safety of students”. One student made the point that “we’re inviting them into our home and we can’t invite people who stand against our values”.
Members of the JCR who spoke in the debate recognised Christian Concern as a “real threat to the physical and mental safety of students”
Some spoke in favour of hosting the camp on the grounds of free speech. One student argued that whilst the group held despicable views, it is not clear that the well-being of students would be under threat. Other colleges such as Trinity, Exeter and Clare College, Cambridge have hosted the organisation and if they did not report any harassment then there is no reason to keep them out of LMH, the student argued.
One student said to The OxStu: “If the college believes in a quantifiable risk of harassment I’d be in favour of rejecting the conference but it looks like the JCR are rejecting them on an ideological basis which seems actively against its own nebulous values”. LMH lists its values as: excellence, knowledge and understanding, fairness – openness and equality, and community.
Others argued that the camp should go ahead so that Christian Concern’s views can be debated. The college has already agreed that if the organisation do come they should pay for their own additional security, engage in debate with students and protest would be allowed, perhaps in the form of hanging the LGBT flag out of windows.
Before the meeting the JCR’s Equalities Committee, consisting of elected officers of the JCR, had unanimously voted against hosting Christian Concern. The college MCR has also voted to write a letter to the governing body opposing the hosting of the camp.
In a statement to TheOxStu, a JCR spokesperson said: “The JCR met to discuss, and passed a motion that they opposed the group coming. However, until a decision is made, it would not be appropriate to comment further”.