An Oxford college has admitted that it “misled” students after it claimed an event organised by a Christian group had caused “distress”. Following a joint campaign by the Free Speech Union and Christian Concern, the college has lifted the ban and apologised for capitulating to an activist mob. The Telegraph has more.
Worcester College, run by David Isaac, the former head of the equalities watchdog, had apologised to students for hosting a Christian Concern training camp and cancelled a second booking after a small number of students complained.
But after being warned that the move could be discriminatory, the college has backed down and issued a statement saying that it was committed “to the right to freedom of speech and religious belief and the dignity of all people”.
The joint statement with Christian Concern confirmed that the evangelical campaign group would now be invited to speak at the college, adding: “In a world where differing views are strongly and sincerely held, it is important to come together and listen to each other.”
The college’s apology, first revealed by the Telegraph last September, came after some students complained about the presence of the Wilberforce Academy over the summer months.
In what was described as the latest example of cancel culture in Britain’s universities, Worcester College wrote to students acknowledging the “distress” that it had caused and promising to use the profits for “diversity initiatives”.
The letter came just months after Mr. Isaac took over as provost from his role as chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). He had previously been chairman of the controversial LGBTQ charity Stonewall.
Despite having been a champion of free speech at universities during his time at the EHRC, Mr. Isaac’s team cancelled a preliminary booking for the same conference for this September.
But in March an independent review found “no evidence” for the allegations from students, who had claimed there had been “aggressive leafleting” by Wilberforce attendees and that they had approached students to discuss LGBTQ conversion therapy.
The college acted on the complaints despite staff not even being able to find a copy of the leaflets, the review noted.
Worcester College has now admitted after “detailed examination” that it was “misleading to suggest that Conference delegates or representatives of Christian Concern acted improperly in an email to students in September 2021”.
The joint statement continued: “Worcester College did not act with the intention of impugning Christian Concern or its reputation. In a world where differing views are strongly and sincerely held it is important to come together and listen to each other.
“To that end, Worcester has invited Christian Concern to speak at a debate which will take place as soon as can be arranged. Worcester looks forward to welcoming Christian Concern back to College.”
The move has been welcomed by campaigners including Toby Young, the general secretary of the Free Speech Union (FSU).
He said that the FSU has “stood shoulder to shoulder with Christian Concern throughout this dispute”.
“The mistake Worcester College made was to immediately capitulate to the demands of an activist mob and ban a group from its premises without properly investigating the allegations against it,” he said.
“We see this kind of institutional cowardice again and again, particularly in the higher education sector, usually motivated by a desire for a quiet life. The way to force these institutions to take their responsibility to uphold free speech more seriously is to make it clear that organisations like ours will create an almighty fuss if they don’t.”
Worth reading in full.