Monday, 30 January 2012

Freedom of Speech and London University Students

Students at University College London have voted to force Catholic organisations to invite pro-abortion speakers to pro-life discussions.

The motion, adopted by 2,002 votes to 818, says:

“Any future open events focusing on the issue of termination invite an anti-choice speaker and a pro-choice speaker as well as an independent chair, to ensure there is a balance to the argument.”

The union also voted to adopt a pro-abortion stance and formally affiliate itself to the organisation Abortion Rights.

The motion noted:

“On October 31 2011, UCLU Catholic Society advertised a ‘discussion’ around the issue of abortion which consisted of one pro-life speaker. It is also noted that people who held opposing views were invited to attend......It continues: “An official pro-choice policy would not prevent students who disagree with termination on ethical or religious grounds from exercising their right not to seek a termination. Pro-choice policy encourages students to make well-informed decisions regarding their bodies and their futures. When clubs and societies invite pro-life speakers they should also invite a pro-choice speaker to balance the debate and vice versa.”

I hope the Catholic Society simply ignores this Motion which is completely illegal under s43 the Education (No 2) Act 1986 which guarantees freedom of speech at Universities also illegal under Articles 9, 10, and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Student Union has no right to dictate what speakers are invited by Student Organisations. Also the resolution assumes that everyone involved in this debate can be easily categorised as "pro-life" or "pro-choice" which is a simplistic analysis. Many people for example regard Nadine Dorries MP as "pro-life" though she describes herself as "pro-choice". What right does the Student Union have to decide which category a speaker should be classified under ?

The Students who voted for this resolution have demonstrated a totalitarian intolerance unworthy of an Academic Institution. Hitler and Stalin would be proud of them.


Anonymous said...

When you say that the Union has voted to "force" organisations to invite pro-choice speakers, are you possibly overstating the case?

The motion passed merely says that the union "believes" that clubs and societies "should" invite both pro-life and pro-choice speakers. I agree with you about the wrongness, silliness and impracticality of such a rule, and the Union may have succeeded in uniting traditional Catholics and militant feminists in a common cause. But on the face of it I don't see any language of compulsion, merely of exhortation. Am I missing something?

Neil Addison said...

The Motion itself (I have put a link on the Blog) says as follows

"This Union resolves
6. To ensure that any future open events focusing on the issue of termination invite a anti-choice speaker and a pro-choice speaker as well as an an independent chair, to ensure there is a balance to the argument. "

it then goes on to say
"This Union mandates:
4. The Student Activities Officer to inform all clubs and societies of this change in policy and its implications for any future events they may hold. "

The Words "To Ensure" and "mandates" seem to me pretty clear that the Union believes that it has the right to "force" organisations to invite pro-choice speakers.

Incidentally for any UCL students who may be reading this the resolution para 6 should have read "an anti-choice speaker" NOT "a anti-choice speaker"

Anonymous said...

I suppose much depends on the relationship between the Union on the one hand and the Societies on the other. I read resolution 6 as referring to open events conducted by the Union; perhaps I am wrong. Does the Union generally claim the right to regulate the activities of other student societies? Do other student societies concede that the Union has that right? And, in practice, is the Union in a position to dictate who shall address other student societies?

In my own university the Students Union regularly passed motions prescribing how other societies should act, or not act. They were routinely ignored. The union had no way of enforcing these motions and made no attempt to do so. Honour was satisfied, apparently, by passing them. But things may be different in UCL.

Anonymous said...

In many universities the union has control over facilities and common promotion channels, i.e. societies' fair, etc. and for bigger societies to funding. Therefore societies not conforming to the rules can be denied access to these valuable resources. It is not impossible to run a society without these, but it is much more difficult.