Christian group takes legal action against Cambridge college over booking refusal

A Christian campaign group has accused a Cambridge college of refusing an event booking because of its beliefs on marriage.

Christian Concern attempted to book conference facilities at Fitzwilliam College for its Wilberforce Academy, an annual conference for young Christian professionals. 

It says the college refused to accept the booking after Christian Concern submitted a description of the weeklong residential programme describing it as preparing delegates "for servant-hearted, Christ-centred leadership in their communities, Churches, and workplaces, having been equipped with a robust biblical framework that guides their thinking, prayers and activity in addressing the issues facing our society".

Christian Concern was also required to answer a question in the booking contract about whether any speakers had "previously expressed views which may be interpreted as causing controversy, or promoting extreme intolerance of views of others".

In answer to the question, Christian Concern wrote, "As a Christian organisation, Christian Concern holds to the traditional historic Christian understanding of marriage and sanctity of life, in line with mainstream orthodox Christianity and the Church of England."

The campaign group said it received an email from the college a day later stating that, "After careful consideration the College has decided not to accept the booking on the grounds that the event is not compatible with the values of the College."

It further claims to have been told by the college that Christian Concern 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".

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern said: "We are now living in a society where orthodox Christian beliefs appear to be 'fair game' for secular activists who have a grip on what is acceptable and what isn't at the heart of our universities.

"The event was cancelled casually and abruptly as though Christian beliefs on marriage are illegal and therefore discrimination of this nature is an acceptable norm.

"For senior members of a world-renowned college to show such brazen discrimination of Christian beliefs should concern anyone who cares about Christian freedoms and free speech.

"We are concerned how students at Fitzwilliam College who hold orthodox Christian beliefs might be being intimidated into silence on campus.

"Whatever happens, we will continue to speak of Jesus Christ who was himself an 'outsider' and by his words and actions demonstrated his commitment to reaching the marginalised, excluded and vulnerable so that they could discover true hope and everlasting love through him, even sacrificing his own life to do so."

On Thursday the court refused Christian Concern's application for a judicial review but ruled that the claim could be heard in a county court instead. The date and venue for the county court hearing have not yet been fixed.

In response to the claims, the college said that it had later reconsidered its original refusal after being contacted by Christian Concern.

"Legal representatives of Christian Concern contacted the College at the end of March regarding the decision to decline the booking," the college said in a statement.

"The College reconsidered its decision and then offered the organisation to host its event on new dates, since fixed, College-related events (Graduations and a Reunion) had now filled the facilities available.

"Christian Concern did not take up this offer made by the College."