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Oxford college draws backlash for banning Christian Union from fair

(Wikimedia Commons/Peter Trimming)Oxford University's Balliol College is featured in this image.

An Oxford college's decision to ban the Christian Union from setting up a stall at its freshers' fair has drawn backlash from religious leaders and academics.

Representatives of the Christian Union have been banned from attending freshers' fair at Balliol College, a constituent college of the University of Oxford in England, on the grounds that it would be "alienating" for students of other religions, and constitute a "micro-aggression."

The Christian Union was reportedly told that the organizers of the fair, the Junior Common Room (JCR) committee, wanted the event to be a "secular space."

In an email exchange, JCR vice-president Freddy Potts, on behalf of the JCR committee, told a representative of the Christian Union that there is "potential for harm to freshers who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford" if they are allowed to attend the fair.

"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," Potts stated in the email, according to Oxford University student newspaper Cherwell.

The event organizers told the union that a single multi-faith stall would be allowed at the fair, but on the condition that it would only display leaflets and no representatives would be allowed to staff it.

The decision has sparked a backlash within Balliol, with students unanimously passing a motion on Sunday to describe the move as a "violation of free speech [and] a violation of religious freedom."

The motion also prohibits JCR from barring official religious societies from taking part at future freshers' fairs at Balliol.

Dr. Joanna Williams, a university lecturer and author of "Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity," said that JCR's decision to ban the Christian Union was an expression of "intolerance being exercised in the name of inclusion."

"They are saying: 'Your religious society is not welcome here'. Essentially they are saying that the Christian Union is not allowed to recruit new members," she stated.

The Rev. Nigel Genders, the Church of England's Chief Education Officer, contended that Christian Unions are some of the largest student-led organizations in many universities across England and excluding them would be a demonstration of a lack of understanding about the nature of debate and dialogue.

A Balliol College spokesperson noted that the Christian Union will be offered a stall at future freshers' fairs following Sunday night's motion.

"Balliol is a tolerant, friendly college where students of all faiths and none are free to worship and express their beliefs openly," the spokesperson added.

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