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Pro-life student group wins affiliation at Scottish university

CNA Friday, 24 May 2019
Aberdeen, Scotland, May 24, 2019 / 01:01 am (CNA).- A pro-life group at the University of Aberdeen has been granted affiliation by the school's student association, a month after filing a lawsuit charging unlawful discrimination.

“This week, the Aberdeen University Students’ Association (AUSA) informed us that our society application has been approved, which means we have officially received affiliation,” the Aberdeen Life Ethics Society said May 17. “This is a long-awaited result to a seemingly endless battle, but we could not be more pleased to have won affiliation.”

In October Ausa had prevented the affiliation of Ales, citing its own pro-choice policy. The move limited Ale's access to funds and venues at the university.

After failing to have the policy changed, Ales filed a lawsuit April 12 against Ausa and the university, “alleging unlawful discrimination against the society and the violation of rights protected by UK law.” The suit will continue.

In its statement announcing its affiliation, Ales welcomed the assistance of both “free speech enthusiasts and pro-life advocates”, naming in particular Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre.

“We are grateful for the numerous pro-life students at Aberdeen who have reached out to us over the last several months because they are interested in getting involved with the society,” the group added. “Our ranks have swelled with students who are passionately committed to the pro-life cause and who will lead this society in the years to come.”

Ales stated: “We look forward to actively engaging with the student body and working to foster a civil yet honest conversation about the vitally important ethical issues surrounding human life. While there are some intolerant students who wanted our society to fail … we truly believe that there are many more students on this campus who are willing to take a fair-minded approach to this debate. These are the students we’ve heard from all along the way – they may not agree with our position, but they adamantly believe that we should be free to espouse our beliefs on campus.”

Ausa had adopted a pro-choice policy in 2017, on which basis Ales' affiliation was rejected in October 2018. The policy says, in part, that “Ausa should oppose the unreasonable display of pro-life material within campus and at Ausa events.”

The pro-life group said that the pro-choice policy was “being used as political cover to ban student speech on campus, it also treats the student body as undivided on the issue of abortion.”

In its lawsuit last month, Ales charged that the no platform policy violates the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998 by restricting “the freedoms of association and belief for certain students on the basis of an ideological litmus test.”

A spokesperson for the the University of Aberdeen has commented that it is “an inclusive community and recognises different beliefs, values and cultures.”

Pro-life groups at other Scottish universities have faced similar problems.

Last year the the University of Strathclyde (in Glasgow) lifted a ban on pro-life groups following legal pressure. Strathclyde Sudents for Life argued that the student associaton's no platforming policy violated the Equality Act 2010 “by directly discriminating against a group of students based on their beliefs.”

Glasgow Students for Life were barred from affiliation by the Glasgow University's Students' Representative Council last November.

In March 2018 a joint committee on human rights of the UK parliament noted troubling barriers to free speech at the nation's universities, writing: “Whilst the original intention behind safe space policies may have been to ensure that minority or vulnerable groups can feel secure, in practice the concept of safe spaces has proved problematic, often marginalising the views of minority groups.”
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