History repeating?

It has recently come to my attention that our beloved Guild has a history of poor relations with successful socieities. They also have a track record of reacting with threats and ultimatums to those who do not hold their views or their love of red tape. This article was recently brought to my attention and is a classic example of Guild over-stretching its ‘authority’.

“A UNIVERSITY Christian Union has been suspended and had its bank account frozen after refusing to open its membership to people of all religions. The Christian Union, an evangelical student organisation, has instructed lawyers and is threatening court proceedings against the Birmingham Guild of Students.

The Birmingham Christian Union has more than 100 members who attend meetings regularly and has been functioning at the university for 76 years. Members claim the actions have been taken against them after they refused on religious grounds to make “politically correct” changes to their charitable constitution, including explicitly mentioning people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered.

The Christian Union was advised that the use of the words “men” and “women” in the constitution were causing concern because they could be seen as excluding transsexual and transgendered people. Difficulties arose after the organisation Christians in Sport, whose supporters include Jonathan Edwards, the Olympic gold medallist, attempted to book a room in the name of the Christian Union. After checking the union’s constitution, the Guild of Students objected to a number of clauses.

Andy Weatherley, Christian Union staff worker in Birmingham, said: “The guild insists the Christian Union constitution must be amended to include mandatory clauses, insisting on more control by the guild and open membership to those who would not call themselves Christians.”

At a recent guild meeting Matthew Crouch, of the Christian Union, appealed against derecognition. He said: “All guild members can attend our meeting but only members can vote,” but Stuart Mathers, a guild vice-president, said that all student groups have to follow guild council policy. Birmingham University Christian Union is affiliated to the University and Colleges’ Christian Fellowship. Pod Bhogal, its communications director, said: “We support the Birmingham Christian Union. We would not dream of telling a Muslim group or a political society how to elect their leaders or who could or could not become a member. The same applies to a Christian Union.”

Article can be found here


23 thoughts on “History repeating?

  1. fact is BUCU where contravening the 1994 education act and therefore the Guild were forced to act in derecognising the society. Get your facts straight.

  2. First off I assume you mean ‘were’ not ‘where’. Second please specify how they were contravening the 1994 education act?

  3. I was at the Uni when all this came about (and a member of Guild Council at the time) and the Guild acted according to it’s own Constitution. ALL member groups are prohibited from discriminating against other groups on the grounds of religion, sex, sexual tendancies or race. Regarding the Education Act 1994, it says “the procedure for allocating resources to groups or clubs should be fair and should be set down in writing and freely accessible to all students”.

    To quote Wikipedia: “Some assert that it requires all university societies that draw on students’ union funding to be open to membership by all students, whilst others assert that this does not explicitly prevent a society of a students’ union from restricting its membership to those who share the aims and purposes of the society.”

    If you had done your research, you will have found that the same thing happened at Exeter University back in 2007. It also happened at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University and some London medical schools. This is what Exeter’s Guild of Students had to say on the matter:

    “The premise of the situation is that students felt that as students fund our societies and as our Equal Opportunities Policy states, all activities should be open to all students.

    “The Evangelical Christian Union is the only society identified that has barriers to entry – both for membership of the society and to be on the committee of the society.

    “This is certainly not a debate regarding the beliefs of the society, it is one of equal opportunities.”

    This was what was said by President of BUGS at the time, Richard Angell, to the BBC Regarding this matter:

    “We have to ensure by the 1984 Education Act that all of our societies are open to students’ membership and that the procedures by which we go through to allocate those resources are fair and equitable across the board.

    “We have to ensure that all of our members have the right to hold positions within the organisations.

    “By being a society you are a member of our governing body.”

    So this issue has actually affected multiple universities and not just Birmingham, so it certainly isn’t a Guild problem.

    I think you’re being overly critical on the Guild. Groups that are members of the guild cannot discriminate, that is one of the key rules.

  4. I think this is a ridiculous situation. The Christian Society meetings as far as I am concernned should be open to all but membership should be restricted to christians alone. I think it is a ridiculous notion that membership should be open to all because that defeats the purpose of the society. If a muslim or homosexuals decided to be part of the christian union for negative reasons (to ‘have a go’ or ridicule) then it not only devalues the society but it makes a mockery of everything it stands for and subjects legitimate members to unneccessary abuse.

    You also conveniently side step the fact that the Guild wanted to all but control the society. They wanted to impose one of their own executive members onto the CU executive, open membership to people of all faiths and beliefs and instructed the Christian union to change its constitution from “men and women” to “people” to make it more inclusive for transsexual/transgender persons to become members. Now forgive me but as far as the church is concerned homosexualism and other such things are immoral. Surely by forcing the union to accept homosexuals and others of different faiths you are inflicting something upon them which they feel stronglly about. You are also making a mockery of the christian faith.

    The truth is this is another example of the guild not operating in the interests of others as you would like us to believe but centralising more power in their own hands. In addition the names of universities in similar situations means nothing and is a minority. There are many many universities in this country who do not have such rules and just because a minority do does not make it right.

    The whole situation revolves around the fact that the Guild insisted that the CU constitution must be amended to include ‘mandatory clauses’, insisting on more control and more intrusion by the Guild and open membership to those who would not call themselves Christians. This is the truth of the matter.

    It is a fundamental right of any organisation to be able to include in its membership only those who abide by the ethos and focus of the organisation. The meetings of the CU were open to all as the Guild would wish but membership and voting rights was rightly restricted to those who profess themselves christians. Ask yourself how would BULS feel if they were forced to have a constitution that allowed the possibility of neo nazi’s or fascists to join? or how devout Muslims would feel knowing Jews could join their society?

    The principle is the same, membership of any society should be restricted to those who believe in what the society stands for and they should not have rules imposed on them that compromise their faith.The Vice Chancellors report “Extremism and intolerance on Campus”, advises Universities “some clubs of societies to have restricted eligibility, say on religious or nationality grounds. Otherwise, it could be open to a group hostile to the club or society to join and take it over in a way that would be quite wrong. But we urge care in this area.” Care which was cast aside.

  5. I didn’t forget any fact. I was there for the Guild Council meetings where it took place and remember all the arguments about it. There’s been plenty of those while I was there, a few involving myself as well which I regret and won’t go into here.

    The fact is that the Guild have had a constitution which has been there for a long time. You can’t just have exceptions for one, because otherwise where would it end? Would political parties start banning people that didn’t toe the party line? Would the chess club ban people who couldn’t play chess? Where does it end?

    The guild has to have an open for all policy, otherwise they are breaking equal equalities rules, breaking the rules of the education act, and breaking their own constitution, which says all student groups should not discriminate. Why should gays, lesbians and transgenders not be allowed to attend christian meetings? After all, two Anglican males have just got married, so why should they discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation.

    You also ignore the fact that this situation is not unique to Birmingham University. As I said in my previous comment, there are several guilds who have all taken the same line for the same reasons. I take it then that all these guilds are the same, and want to control the society?

    Also, why would people want to join a society to ridicule them? That seems a pretty pathetic and pointless thing to do, and very insulting to LGBT’s or Muslims, or people of any religion. I was a member of the chess club for three years and not once did people try and ridicule us for playing a geeky sport. Even now, playing in a pub in Fenton, Stoke-on-Trent, no-one ridicules us for playing chess, or for the fact we’re mostly Port Vale fans in a Stoke City pub. You’re making strange assumptions there. No-one is sad enough they would join a society to ridicule them. Would a Tory join the Labour party to do that? Of course not. Then again, they’d have to pay to join so it would be giving the enemy money!

    You cannot restrict membership to a group under law, and under Guild constitution. That is the crux of the matter and the main thing that is up for debate. You only have to look at how many Guilds have had the same problem to know that this is not a situation unique to Birmingham and it is not a situation that is the guild’s fault. As trustees of the guild, they have a duty to uphold it’s values. This is how they did that.

    As a Christian myself, I don’t see what the problem is. It’s in the Bible that people should not turn others away.

  6. “The Guild has a constitution that has been there for a long time’… the CU had been there for 76 years and only in 2005-6 was its constitution called in to question.

    ‘Why would people join a society to ridicule them’… Im sure that gays would love to infiltrate a christian society and attempt to discredit their attitudes or slag them off for their predjudices. I accept however that this is not likely to occur but by having an open door policy as the guild would wish you are presenting the oppourtunity for it to occur however remote the chances.

    ‘Would political parties ban members for not towing the party line’ No Im not suggesting that. As far as I am concerned a conservative is a conservative, we adhere to broad principles but ultimately the ‘fine print’ is down to interpretation. Different members have different views it is natural in parties.

    It is clear you are firmly on the side of the guild. I am firmly on the side of the individual society. I dont believe in big joined up or imposing government. As far as I am concerned the Guild should be a debating forum and should exercise little power and make few if any demands. I believe that membership of any society should be at the discretion of the individual society and they should not have their beliefs compromisied by a larger body.

    The guild constitution is the problem and is in need of a redraft not just in this area but in many areas.

  7. I think it’s obvious why the two of us disagree then, it’s all come back to the argument of privitisation vs nationalisation, which has long been the battleground for Tory vs Labour, with the Tories longing to privitise as much as possible in order to have less to worry about while Labour believe that nationalisation is better. Some things it would be stupid privitise (NHS, education, armed forces), some areas it has worked and some it has failed miserably (NHS cleaning contracts for one, rail maintenance for another).

    I don’t think “gays” would love to iniltrate the christian society at all. They may want to change their views but I can think of better ways of going about it than petty behaviour like that.

    At the end of the day the Guild have a legal obligation. The committee are trustees of the Guild and so are legally obliged to make sure all societies of the guild adhere to the law. In this instance they, and many other guilds, felt the Christian society was being restrictive and so felt they had to act.

  8. Privitisation vs nationalisation?! I think privitisation has won that argument… youre about 20 years too late… even Labour have developed thatcher’s privatisation project! This isnt privitisation vs nationalisation this right vs wrong. it is WRONG to force people of a religious faith to accept those of a different faith or those who stand in dirct contradiction to the teachings of their faith. I am not saying that all socities should operate in this manner I am simply stating as the Vice Chancellors report does that there should be certain exceptions, religion being the obvious example. I would never expect Muslim or Jewish socieites to accept me as a catholic just as i would hope not be expected to accept them. The CU is no different. Religion is a sensitive issue and the guild appear devoid of sensitivity.

    Also you speak of ‘Many other guilds?’ As far as I can see you have named 2 or 3… which would barely account for a couple of percent of the total of universities in the UK. As far as I am aware the nottingham university, durham etc impose no such rules on their Christian Unions so why should birmingham be any different?

    The fact is that the guild is viewed with indifference by a huge portion of the university student body. It is precisely rules such as this that has led to this state of affairs. The guild, like the labour party, needs to get its act together. The funny thing is in their desire to please everybody with their ‘equality agenda’ they have ended up pleasing nobody.

  9. Dan I am astonished that you posted a blog on an issue without getting your facts straight beforehand. That, I am afraid, is a real shocker…

  10. The fact is the CU refused to bow to the guilds demands. Another fact as far as I am concerned is that the guild is redundant. Frankly no one cares about it and it is precisely issues like this that have led to this state of affairs. The guild has no right to impose such demmands on religious socieities. You argue it is the constitution that says they do… well change it. It is clearly wrong.

  11. No chess club I have been at has ever banned anyone, except someone who ran off with the club funds.

    As for privitisation, no it hasn’t won and not by a long way. Only the rich would say privitise education. It has made a mess of the rail maintenance network, it has made a mess of NHS cleaning contracts. There are many examples where privitisation hasn’t worked.

    Of course, only a party that doesn’t care about those who can’t afford the basic things would say privitisation works for everything.

  12. Of course privitisation has won, does Clause Four not show that? :S

    Labour have made just as much a commitment to privitisation in recent years and to say they haven’t would be hugely altering the truth.

    If we’re talking of a Party that doesn’t care about people who can’t afford the basic things, maybe we should mention the abolition of the 10p Tax rate? You lot should be up for a Nobel Peace Prize for how much you care!

  13. My dad’s badminton club doesn’t admit players as members until they reach a level of competence. What we are talking about is freedom of association – an important human right. As such I support BUCF should they decide to disaffiliate from a deeply intolerant Guild.

  14. It is in Dan’s favour that he is coming across this BUCU row for the first time now, and also that he damns the Guild rules for their anti-common sense effects. He will have seen the former chair of labour club quoting rules. He is now to some extent involved with setting the guilds rules – so who can criticize BUCF for wanting to leave? In fact I have not seen any BUCF members registering opposition to the move, only BULS members screaming and shouting that bucf will dissappear and be replaced by a ‘legitimate’ conservative group within the guild. That wont happen. We are getting bigger and bigger, and it is labour who will find themselves with membership difficulties soon, as they currently already do.

  15. We have already got in contact with a student who will be joining the University in september. She has agreed to be our First year officer. This means it will be her main priority to ensure that all first years are aware that Birmingham has an active and successful CF. Should we disaffiliate as I suspect we have already been in contact with several university departments who have agreed in principle to send out an email to all students on their mailing lists. This is a new initiative which we believe will yield positive results.

    The guild has been a millstone around our neck or far too long and, as Joe rightly suggests, from conversations with BUCF members we already have a majority in support of disaffiliation. The referendum to be held in August should be a mere formality. Disaffiliating will be the making of BUCF not the breaking.

  16. You give a good example Dan of the benefits – you will have someone with the point of view of a first year involved straight away, which is brilliant. Guild societies have to have an election, give notice and all the rest of it to elect their freshers rep. BUCF already has one to recruit conservatives, the future party of government who young people are increasingly affiliating with.

  17. “The guild constitution is the problem and is in need of a redraft not just in this area but in many areas.”

    So you’re aware that we are getting a new Memorandum and Articles (or a “constitution”) in the summer?

    I would have thought that with all your research you would have known that, but clearly not.

    And Joseph should know better – any good trustee would not want to break the rules of the Education Act, or any other act for that matter.

  18. I have been very busy recently but I am going to set the record straight and be as concise on this as possible.

    Many societies benefit from affiliation. They can apply for grants, benefit from guild promotions and use the facilities. As Ryan pointed out the Guild doesn’t benefit political societies as well as it could. You have decided to leave and you are using your ‘procedure and bureaucracy’ story to stir up controversy. I frankly do not care what you do.

    In order to manage socieities the Guild needs rules. For example in theory the Vice President (Student Activities) sits ex-officio on every society committee. In practice they do not interfer. These type of rules, which you bemoan, are happily recognised by 99% of societies.

    BUECU were not observing these rules. Their constitution had been altered a few times and their actions were leaving the Guild in contravention of the 1994 education act. When funding is allocated to societies membership of that society should be open to all. Fact is every other religous group on campus has open membership. Furthermore ‘those gays’ you were talking about are not infiltrating them.

    This was a significant issue at the time. The position the Guild was in was explained to BUECU though they were unwilling to change their constitution. This left the Guild with no choice.

    The Guild sets a criteria for societies to be recognised, there are no exceptions to this. In effect, you have to play by the rules. BUECU chose not to.

    I hope this clears everything up. Dan if you do a really long and irrelevant rant I probably wont bother to reply.

  19. Lets agree to disagree. You use acts and rules in the guilds defence. I use common sense. Common sense is that a christian union should be exempt from rules or procedures that comprimise their faith. This should also be the case with muslim or jewish societies. The guild has no right to comprimise a persons faith for the sake of political correctness and ‘equality’. You can quote acts and rules to me all you like but it doesn’t make the situation right.

    As for you not being bothered about us leaving the guild, delighted to hear it. If only other members of BULS took a similar line. We never wished this to be blown up as much as it has as far as we were concerned this is a matter for BUCF. BULS’s attitude has attempted to back us in to a corner, so naturally we have retalliated.

    If you also read this blog regarding the CU, I actually kept personal opinion to a minimum directing the reader entirely to the times article. I let the article do the talking. Instead BULS once again pushed us for a personal opinion when they could have left well alone. My personal opinion is simple the guild has just pissed us off, but its record shows that it has attempted to comprimise peoples faith and deeply held convictions for the sake of ‘modernity’ or ‘equality’ or what ever P.C buzzword you want to use.

    Also as I keep mentioning I know of many university CU’s who have no such rules imposed on them. I assume they are contavening the act also? Or perhaps their universities are exercising common sense which is severely lacking in the Birmingham Guild of Students.

  20. Hannah, whoever you are, thanks very much for the advice, it is most helpful. Perhaps you will be a guild face one day, best of luck.

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