The Battle Of Church And State

Ailsa Cameron asks whether religious societies should be allowed affiliation with the student union.

In the sparring worlds of religion and sex, Bristol Uni is not having a great time of late.

In April, The Guardian reported Glynn Harrison, appointed Archbishop panel member and ex-Bristol professor of psychiatry, believed that gay people could be counselled out of their, er, gayness.

Then, last week, a story originally broken by The Tab gained global attention, as it was revealed the Bristol CU had, for at least seven years, banned women from speaking at their events.

Picture: The Telegraph

Now, a magnificently unenlightened committee decision meant married women would be permitted the privilege of speaking…in the presence of their husbands.

If you gawped in disbelief at these stories, that is, I believe, the standard reaction. If you had a quiet retch at the audacity, I concur. They are tales that possess a peculiar array of qualities: utterly outrageous, hysterically funny, baffling, and awfully toe-curling.

Given that the CU has apparently been functioning in some sort of strange parallel universe, in which poor old Emily never chucked herself under a horse, and men are totally comfortable with creepily supervising the activities of their wives, one might dare to suspect homosexuality isn’t exactly welcomed with open arms either.

With this in mind, you may like to imagine how the Union feels about the most recent fiasco. For the best part of a decade they’ve been unaware of what can only be described as blatantly sexist policies operating in the CU.

And, to empty a kilo of salt into a severed limb, murmurs of homophobia in university religious societies have been surfacing.

So, should the Union scrap affiliation with religious societies altogether? In another debate article on The Tab, Kyle Mulholland argued that because joining the CU is optional, they should be allowed to operate as they please.

Er, really? Is it not crushingly obvious, that if a society wishes to be affiliated with the Union, and receive all the benefits that affiliation offers, they have to comply with their rules?

It’s a basic concept, and is generally how life works: see school, university, the Brownies etc. To bring it right back to the basics for Kyle, it also applies in normal business settings.

If you want to eat a meal in a restaurant, you must order from the menu, pay the bill, maybe pay a service charge, and categorically avoid doing anything socially humiliating or degrading like, for example, pooing on the floor.

And in this case, the CU has most definitely left rather a large, indiscreet turd on the floor of the Union. What makes this poo even more significant is that, as an affiliated society, the CU is, to some extent, representing the university.

Rectifying the relationship between the CU and the Union might seem an unbelievably tricky situation: the conflicting views are nigh on impossible to reconcile.

If some members of the CU genuinely believe that because some chick took a braeburn off a lizard, the rest of us are damned to a life of squeezing out humans in a deluge of blood and faeces, there’s going to be difficulties with sliding them neatly into an equality policy.

Of course, the Union clearly has a responsibility to be tolerant of the views of all religions. But a right to believe does not automatically translate into a right to act upon it, and there is always, always a limit to what the Union should put up with.

Therefore, if, as the CU claimed, the reason behind such odd decisions was that some members of the society felt ‘uncomfortable’ with women speaking, that is both bizarre and, sadly, entirely irrelevant.

Shockingly, our society and our university is just a wee bit more progressive than limiting the privileges of unmarried women, and why on earth should a religious society override this? It’s completely ludicrous to think that there could be any justification for a policy in a Union-affiliated society that actively discriminates on the basis of gender or sexuality.

And yes, there’s no such thing as thought-crime and everyone can say what they want to and believe what they want to and yada yada, it’s important, but we’ve heard it a thousand times.

The point is that people who are burdened with such embarrassingly archaic prejudices shouldn’t ever expect them to be catered to.

In the name of equality, there is absolutely no reason for religious societies not to be affiliated with the Union.

But when their rules fail to adhere to Union policy, and they’re wielding some piss-poor excuse in defence of it, it’s time for them to be dragged from their dingy monasteries, and into the cold light of day.