Students at one of Scotland’s top universities are embroiled in a free speech row after pro-life supporters were banned from setting up an official group over fears it would violate campus “safe space”.
The decision of the University of Strathclyde Students’ Association (USSA) to “no-platform” group members means they will not receive any funding and its events will not be promoted on campus.
“Anti-choice groups actively use intimidation and fear tactics to harass people entering abortion clinics,” a motion from the student union reads.
The proposal argued that the establishment of “anti-choice groups” on campus would oppose equal opportunities policy by giving them a platform to “harass students”.
“This in turn violates their safe space,” it continued.
“Allowing an anti-choice group to form would be a barrier to freedom, equality and body autonomy for those with uteruses on campus and therefore not only violate existing standing policy but also act against the interests of a large amount of the student population.”
A safe space is a place where people are able to express themselves freely without fear of being made uncomfortable or unsafe due to their gender, sexuality or race etc.
The decision was made by the student union’s Equality and Diversity committee after a motion was submitted to no-platform the Strathclyde Life Action group, which has 223 followers on Facebook.
The ban has garnered an angry response from the group, which says the policy is “an assault on the right to freedom of expression”, granted under the European Convention of Human Rights.
In a statement, Strathclyde Life Action continued: “Universities are places of freedom of thought, where ideas should be discussed, challenged and debated.
“Strathclyde Life Action would like to affirm that we are happy for the USSA to take positions on political issues; but we are not happy for USSA to shut down or disaffiliate societies simply because they don’t align with the modern progressive agenda.
“Our issue did not involve funding either; we only want a platform where we can stand up for what we believe. Students are all equally entitled to a political platform. We believe that our group’s existence is in fact a bastion of the term ‘diversity’ and we affirm our belief that true human equality begins in the womb.”
The group say it will continue to campaign against the decision and will take external action if the ban is not lifted.
Jamie McGowan, a pro-life student at Strathclyde, told The Huffington Post UK: “It is absolutely saddening that a university that claims to be so liberal and put so much value on enlightenment and free thought is happy to censor things which should challenged and debated.
“In a real democracy, freedom of speech and opposition is really important.
“We think is is reasonable to be pro-life through medical and scientific facts. We believe life begins at conception so it is reasonable that we want to defend that right. It’s a fundamental human right,” he added.
But president of the students association Raj Jayaraj defended the union’s move, saying the policy made it clear that access to abortions are deemed fundamental to women’s equality.
Jayaraj told the Herald: “If a society’s beliefs contradict association policy then it is not allowed to affiliate.
“If a society representing the British National Party came on campus then we would not allow them to affiliate.”
Other students also supported the union’s decision:
A spokesperson from the assocation said: “The increased visibility of pro-life issues on campus last year, brought a response from students around protecting women’s liberation.
“We are a democratic organisation and the pro-life group still have a number of avenues open to them. If they wish to pursue a referendum on the issue, then we would encourage them to do so.”
A spokesperson for the University of Strathclyde added: “This matter is being dealt with by the Students’ Association. When the appropriate Students’ Association processes are exhausted, any student may, if they wish, ask the University Court to review the decision taken.”