Press statement concerning Lady Margaret Hall and the Wilberforce Academy25 October 2018 Issued by: Christian Concern
Christian Concern can confirm reports in the media that we have made enquiries about hosting our 10th annual Wilberforce Academy at Lady Margaret Hall (LMH), Oxford in 2019.
Although we understand that the college’s Junior Common Room (JCR) has voted to oppose our booking, our correspondence has been directly with the college which has the requisite management and decision making power on these issues. As a charity, the university has a duty to maximise the use of its assets.
Today (25 Oct), the college wrote to inform us that if they were to host our event, they would require us to pay for additional security, due to the likelihood of members of the LMH community – including staff and senior members – wishing to “express vehement disagreement” and engage in “sustained, “very noticeable” protest.
It seems that the college is afraid that members of its own community would be unable to maintain peaceful protest, bringing into question their commitment to their own college value of ‘fairness – openness and equality’. Surely if students or staff members were to act in violent or aggressive ways towards visitors to the college, then this would be covered under the college’s normal code of conduct for staff and students and the usual disciplinary measures could be taken against such action. We recognise the value of peaceful protest but the usual procedure for any responsible hosting organisation is to contact the police who, paid for by tax payers, will make an assessment and provide cover.
We are perplexed as to how the historic Christian view of marriage, gender and sanctity of life would constitute a threat to students’ “physical and mental safety”. We have held 9 other Academies in Oxbridge colleges. Students there have been able to cope and neither we, nor those universities have heard of any harm caused by our events. On the contrary, we have often been told that we were exemplary guests.
We have written to ask the college what the expected costs would be for the additional security that they believe is necessary to prevent their own community members causing disruption to our event.
It is disappointing that the college and its students would appear to feel so threatened by an event promoting the same Christian values as Oxford University has so clearly been shaped by.
Notes for editors
The full text of the letter from the college’s Domestic Bursar is reproduced below:
Thank you for talking to me about this – I said that I would follow up on email.
We are aware that previous conferences you have held at Oxford and Cambridge have caused considerable disquiet. Your publications setting out your thinking on such issues as homosexuality and abortion have caused great offence to members of our community. Our policy on conference bookings, agreed by Governing Body, states that we will not accept bookings from organisations which promote values which are in conflict with those of the college. Those values include free speech. But we are also an inclusive college which does not, for instance, discriminate against people on grounds of sexuality.
We would also draw your attention to the University’s policy on free speech, adopted by the College, which states: “Wherever possible, [all voices and views] should also be exposed to evidence, questioning and argument.”
In the event you do wish to come to LMH we felt it fair to alert you to the strong likelihood that members of our community – including staff and senior members – would wish to express vehement disagreement with your views and might well want to protest at your presence in the college. I think you should anticipate that any protest LMH could be sustained and very noticeable. We have noted that your own organisation regularly takes part in forms of public protest.
If you still wish to be considered for a booking, this would now be a matter for our Governing Body, which meets next week. It would be a great help, should you wish to proceed, to know if you would be willing to accept two conditions:
1) It is possible that LMH would have to take additional security measures in order to guarantee your ability to hold discussions and classes in the college. We would want an undertaking that you would pay these costs.
2) Given the university’s policies on free speech we would ask you, during your stay in the college, to engage in a meaningful dialogue – format to be decided – with any members of the college who wished to expose your thinking to “evidence, questioning and argument.”
The matter will be discussed at the a meeting on October 31st. If you could let me know your current intentions by tomorrow (Friday) that would be very helpful.
I look forward to hearing from you. “