Pro-life group in free speech victory at Nottingham University

Nottingham Students for Life

A pro-life group is celebrating after the student union at Nottingham University reversed a previous decision denying it affiliation. 

The application by Nottingham Students for Life was originally turned down because its views on abortion "did not align with" the values of the student union, The Times reports. 

The student union had also claimed that the anti-abortion position was incongruent with "the overall current student viewpoint". 

Following the threat of legal action, though, the student union has now overturned the original decision, meaning that Nottingham Students for Life can now affiliate. 

Affiliation is important for student groups because without it, they are restricted in their access to the campus, including the use of rooms and setting up a stall at the annual freshers' fair to recruit new members.  They are also unable to benefit from the funding available to affiliated groups. 

The student union changed its stance on the group's affiliation after it received a pre-action letter from Sinclairs Law warning that it was legally obligated not to discriminate against groups on the basis of their religious beliefs. 

Nottingham Students for Life is the latest pro-life group to have had to resort to the threat of legal action against university student bodies in order to be granted affiliation. 

Similar cases have occurred at the University of Glasgow, Strathclyde University and Aberdeen University in Scotland. 

In these cases, the student unions objected the anti-abortion positions of the groups. 

Paul Conrathe, a consultant at Sinclairslaw, said he hoped the outcome at Nottingham would "to ensure climates that protect free speech rather than chilling it".

"While student officers are free to disagree with the views held by other students, they cannot use their powers to block or disadvantage others," he said. 

"Equality legislation ensures an equal playing field, and this is critical in the university context where students must be able to discuss and debate all kinds of things, including issues that may cause upset or offense."

The Chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, David Isaac, said earlier this month that Christian and pro-life groups should not be barred from university campuses.

He told the Theos conference in London that excluding them was "not consistent with ensuring freedom of speech on campus". 

"One has to remind students' unions, and the universities in which those students' unions sit, about their current legal obligations which I think would allow affiliations of pro-life organisations and groups," he said.