The Daily Telegraph

Cambridge college ‘bans’ Christian group

Fitzwillia­m College barred evangelica­l body from hosting event as it ‘did not believe in gay marriage’

- By Gabriella Swerling SOCIAL AFFAIRS EDITOR

A Christian group has been blocked from holding a conference at Cambridge University as its beliefs are “not compatible with the values of the college”, the High Court has heard. Christian Concern has accused Fitzwillia­m College of withholdin­g permission because of the group’s views – namely that marriage should be between a man and a woman – and has alleged discrimina­tion. The college is disputing the claim and denies discrimina­tion.

A CHRISTIAN group has been blocked from holding a conference at Cambridge University because its values were “not compatible with the values of the college”, the High Court has heard.

Christian Concern has accused Fitzwillia­m College of withholdin­g permission because of the group’s philosophi­cal and religious beliefs – namely that marriage should be between a man and a woman – and has alleged discrimina­tion.

The college is disputing the claim and denies discrimina­tion. The case arose after a representa­tive from Christian Concern contacted the college about booking conference facilities for about 100 people on behalf of Wilberforc­e Academy – one of its initiative­s for young, profession­al Christians.

The Daily Telegraph has seen court documents relating to the case, which was heard before the High Court yesterday. They claim that a senior member of staff at the college justified cancelling the booking to host the event last February on the grounds that the group was not “inclusive”, did “not believe in gay marriage” and that Christian Concern’s “general beliefs” were “not compatible with the values of the college”.

Christian Concern’s legal claim rests on the basis that “the belief in marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and opposition to same-sex unions, is a religious or philosophi­cal belief protected” by both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Equality Act 2010.

The case was heard before High Court judge Sir Ross Cranston in London, where he was asked to decide whether and how the claim should proceed.

Lawyers for Christian Concern said that the case was important because it indicates “wider concern” about “free speech on campuses”.

Alasdair Henderson, leading Christian Concern’s legal team, gave details of the claim and said it should proceed in the High Court or be transferre­d to the county court.

However, Sir Ross concluded there was an “issue” to be tried but ruled that the claim should be heard by a lowerranki­ng county court judge.

A date and venue will now be fixed for a county court hearing, with final details to be decided. Yaaser Vanderman, representi­ng the college, outlined the background to the dispute in a written argument.

Mr Vanderman said that college staff had conducted internet research about Christian Concern, which “gave rise to concerns about the reaction of the college’s students if the booking was accepted”, adding that the claimant’s booking was rejected on the grounds that it is “not compatible with the values of the college”.

He said the college’s head of catering and events had, during a telephone conversati­on, referred to Christian Concern not being “inclusive” – and mentioned the group’s “concerns over the LGBT community” and its opposition to gay marriage.

Mr Vanderman said, during the conversati­on, the Christian Concern representa­tive had “rejected the assertion” that the group was not inclusive but “agreed” that its “understand­ing of marriage” is “as being between a man and a woman”.

He said that there had “unarguably” been “no direct discrimina­tion”.

A spokesman for the college said: “Fitzwillia­m College notes and welcomes the Court’s decision today to refuse Christian Concern’s claim for judicial review. The college continues to welcome conference bookings from a wide range of groups and organisati­ons, with different beliefs and interests, including many religious groups.”

This is not the first time that Fitzwillia­m College has faced criticism.

Dr David Starkey, the historian, resigned from his honorary fellowship at the college after making racist comments about slavery, for which he later apologised, which were branded “indefensib­le” by the college.

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