A pro-life student university group has launched a legal challenge against the University of Aberdeen after its attempts at affiliation were repeatedly rejected by the Students’ Union, based on their policy barring pro-life societies on campus.
According to the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting the Aberdeen Life Ethics Society (Ales), the case is emblematic of a ‘disturbing trend across over 100 UK universities’, where reportedly 43 per cent have implemented speech codes and policies that limit religious expression.
It also claimed at least 108 universities in the UK have actively censored free speech; or have done so through over-regulation. On the abortion issue, there have also been specific cases of pro-life societies being censored at Glasgow and Strathclyde universities.
In April 2018, Ales submitted a new society application for affiliation to Aberdeen University’s Societies Union Committee (Ausa).
Yet in November 2017 Ausa had implemented an ‘Ausa is Pro-Choice’ policy, which required the union to give ‘no funding, facilitation, or platform’ to any pro-life group and forbids the ‘unreasonable display’ of pro-life material on campus.
Therefore, when Ales submitted its application, it was told the society was directly against an Ausa policy and could not be accepted. For the next seven months, Ales made every reasonable effort to understand and challenge why the application was being rejected but was met with repeated obstruction and delay which again resulted in the repeated rejection of their application.
Now, with support from the Christian Legal Centre, Ales is taking legal action on the grounds of discrimination.
It is not only at universities, however, that pro-life speech is being discouraged; the Scottish government itself is encouraging local councils to restrict pro-life free speech.
The advice was given in response to a letter from Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP in which he called a recent pro-life event in Edinburgh ‘alarming’.
Edinburgh City Council recently rejected proposals to create ‘censorship zones’ outside abortion clinics, after a report from the council said there was ‘no evidence’ that pro-life supporters were causing ‘unnecessary distress’.
However, later in April, a Scottish Government spokesman stated that councils are able to impose measures to restrict protests.
He said, ‘The Scottish Government would encourage those councils or integrated joint boards who have concerns about abortion protests to consider whether making a by-law would be appropriate in their area’.
As quoted on the Christian Institute website, John Deighan, chief executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children in Scotland, said, ‘Mr Cole-Hamilton wants to ban a tiny number of people who gather occasionally near health clinics to offer women support to have their babies. In reality, it is a desperate and repressive measure’.