Edit: Since writing this, it has come to my attention that the Christian Union actually have nothing to do with the motion (see comment dated 11/11/09). It was proposed by two of their long standing committee members, which is what led to the confusion on my part. I can only apologise for that assumption. Please note, however, that although much of the argument here is misdirected towards the CU, it loses none of its validity.
Unfortunately not. The Christian Union at the University of Edinburgh have put forward a motion for the student association’s AGM to allow themselves or another organisation to put Bibles in each of the bedrooms in Pollock Halls. If you’re a student at Edinburgh University, I urge you to read this post, although it’s likely to be quite long, and if you have a comment, if you disagree or whatever, post it here in the comments thread. I’d like to get a discussion on this motion going and hopefully get a bit of interest so that the necessary 300 students turn up to the AGM and it’s not a complete waste of time for everyone involved.
But first, a bit of history. A few years ago the Student Representatives Council passed a motion banning Gideon or any other religious organisation from putting Bibles in the rooms at Pollock Halls, the student halls. Following that, the CU proposed a motion to the general meeting lifting this ban, which got a majority of the vote, but not enough votes for it to pass (the EUSA system requires that at least 300 people vote for a motion for it to pass, they got 200 and something). This all happened before I was at uni and before the Humanist Society existed, but there are legends that when Gideon were allowed to place their Bibles in the rooms, it resulted in them being thrown out the window, torn to pieces or even in some cases burnt. I’m not exactly in favour of that but it demonstrates how a lot of students feel about evangelising on campus.
Anyway here’s a copy of the motion as it is now. As far as I can tell it hasn’t been amended so this is what will go before the general meeting. Seeing as I’m not in Edinburgh and won’t be able to attend the meeting, all I can really do about it is post a point-by-point rebuttal of what is says. This is more or less the argument I would give if I were to speak, and if I were given more time than you’re allowed at that meeting.
So, first up
The association notes: Article 9 (Freedom of thought, conscious and religion and freedom to manifest such beliefs in public and private) and Article 10 (Freedom of expression which includes the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers) of the European Convention of Human Rights which is incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998.
That’s absolutely true, it does say that. This is no doubt an inclusion of one of the proposers of this motion, law student David Nixon, who even managed to use the right to freedom of assembly to justify denying non-Christians access to the Christian Union earlier this year. That was bizarre, twisted logic and so’s this. He’s trying to use the right to freedom of conscience and expression to justify leaving a Christian text within the privacy of someone’s room. You have the right to express your opinion, you don’t have the right to come into my living room and do it. Interestingly, the motion doesn’t mention the second point to each of these articles, which states that these rights may be subject to conditions or restrictions in order to preserve the rights of others, among other things.
The association believes: That the Bible has had a powerful impact on Scottish Culture and is useful to the study of many disciplines including literature, history, law, social anthropology, classics, divinity and philosophy.
That’s true as well (although I’m not sure how it’s useful for the study of law – it is, of course, a perfect example of how not to do philosophy), but so what? Would you use it to justify putting the complete works of Robert Burns in every room in Pollock? The Bible is available online (this point will come up repeatedly, just to warn you), as well as in the library. Anyone needing access to it has it right there at their fingertips.
That many religions, philosophies and spiritualities respect the contents of the Bible.
Most of them consider it blasphemy, actually. Regardless, this is a popularity argument and has no place in a motion of this type.
That many students have taken comfort in a Bible passage in times of distress and this is important given that the University Chaplaincy Centre is only open 9am – 9pm weekdays and is only staffed 9am-5pm.
Let’s take a look at that claim, shall we? Nightline is also open throughout the night, but let’s leave that aside for a minute. What are common causes of distress? Maybe being a member of a disadvantaged or minority group? Say there’s a student who’s gay, but having only just moved to university, noone there knows. Quite a difficult situation, I’d say. Now say that student opens the Bible and discovers that according to that philosophy, they deserve to be put to death. Not exactly ideal. The same kind of discrimination found in the Bible refers to women, pagans, and anyone who’s not a Christian. This isn’t exactly the kind of thing that should be allowed to be placed in people’s rooms. Those who do want to consult the Bible can do so online, or in the library.
That by providing the Bible and other Scriptures the University is not necessarily promoting the contents of such texts but merely making a service available to students. There is nothing to prevent the university or EUSA attaching stickers to any books placed in Pollock making clear that the University does not endorse the views contained within such books.
Yes, it would be making a service available. A service that is already widely available on the internet, or in the library. Hardly one that is lacking at the moment.
5. That it is in the interests of promoting religious diversity and promoting freedom of expression and religion that EUSA do not prevent Bibles being placed in rooms in Pollock.
6. That the University should be a free market place of ideas and as such no view should be suppressed or censored. True tolerance would allow all views a chance to be fairly represented and would not ban the distribution of any books.
Erm, starting with number 5, no it’s not. It’s in the interest of freedom of expression and conscience to allow people to believe and express themselves as they wish in public or private. This is completely contrary to allowing people to impose the Bible onto people who aren’t interested or who hold different beliefs.
As for number 6, the Bible is not being censored. As I’ve said several times now, the Bible is available online and in the library; the University is in fact actively making it available. To claim, therefore, that it is being censored, is nothing short of ludicrous. In addition, the distribution of the Bible has not been banned. The CU is free to, and regularly do, distribute copies of their religious texts. I have 7 copies of John’s gospel given to me by members of the CU. Unless they’ve been taken away since I was last there, there’s a big box of them underneath the stairs in George Square Lecture Theatre, the very building where the AGM will take place! The only difference between them distributing them on campus, and putting them in people’s rooms, is that when they’re distributing them, people can say no. This motion just allows religious groups to push the Bible or other religious texts onto people who otherwise wouldn’t want it.
That any group or society representing any particular point of view who wish to provide literature to be placed in every room in Pollock should be allowed to do so providing the books are made available freely at their own expense.
Oh so we’re not just talking about religious groups? So why don’t we allow the Socialist Society to put a copy of the Communist Manifesto in each room? Of course in response, the Conservative and Unionist Society will want a copy of their literature in the rooms too, and so will any other organised group out there. The University already has this kind of resource available, it’s right next door to George Square and it’s called the Main Library! But that last part, about the books being made available freely “at their own expense” is an interesting addition, I wonder why they put that in? Could it be that they know the CU, with its large membership and funded by the UCCF, is the only group on campus that would be able to afford such a project? Methinks so. More on that later.
The Association resolves: To mandate the President of EUSA to represent these views to Accommodation Services so that the situation can be returned to what it used to be prior to the SRC deciding Bibles
should be removed from Pollock.
You mean returned to what it was before progress was made, right?
Secularists tend to have two responses to this kind of problem. The first, very prominent in the States, would be to allow every group, religious or not, to put their book in the rooms. This is how ludicrous situations like the Washington State nativity scene come about. The second would be to not allow any groups to do it. I favour that option, and here’s why. It doesn’t matter if you give access to all groups, the big fish will always be able to dominate, in this case the CU will be able to put the Bible in the rooms and other groups will struggle. Then we’re back to the situation, where one group is favoured over another, that we were trying to avoid in the first place!
So that is why we shouldn’t pass this motion. Agree? Disagree? Put your comments here!
There are also a number of other motions going through the AGM which are of interest. One is about taking action against Israel, and another is about not giving a platform to discriminatory groups on campus. Maybe I’ll put a similar post up about that one. But regardless of where you stand on any of these issues, go to the AGM and vote! It’s on the 17th November 7pm in George Square Lecture Theatre.