Neil Addison accuses student union at University College London of 'totalitarian intolerance'

A leading Catholic barrister has said that a student union motion at University College London which forces Catholic organisations to invite pro-abortion speakers to pro-life events is “completely illegal”.

Neil Addison, who specialises in freedom of religion, told the Catholic Herald: “This motion is completely illegal under the Education (No 2) Act 1986 which guarantees freedom of speech at universities [and is] also illegal under Articles 9, 10, and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The student union has no right to dictate what speakers are invited by student organisations. Also the resolution assumes that everyone involved in this debate can be easily categorised as ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life’ which is a simplistic analysis. Many people, for example, regard Nadine Dorries as ‘pro-life’ though she describes herself as ‘pro-choice’. What right does the student union have to decide which category a speaker should be classified under?

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“The students who voted for this resolution have demonstrated a totalitarian intolerance unworthy of an academic institution. Hitler and Stalin would be proud of them,” Mr Addison said.

As well as officially affiliating the student union with Abortion Rights group, the motion also stated: “Any future open events focusing on the issue of termination invite an anti-choice speaker and a pro-choice speaker as well as an independent chair, to ensure there is a balance to the argument.”

It noted: “On October 31 2011, UCLU Catholic Society advertised a ‘discussion’ around the issue of abortion which consisted of one pro-life speaker. It is also noted that people who held opposing views were invited to attend.”

It continued: “An official pro-choice policy would not prevent students who disagree with termination on ethical or religious grounds from exercising their right not to seek a termination. Pro-choice policy encourages students to make well-informed decisions regarding their bodies and their futures. When clubs and societies invite pro-life speakers they should also invite a pro-choice speaker to balance the debate and vice versa.”

James Skuse, Democracy and Communications Officer for the union, said the motion applied to pro-abortion talks as well as pro-life ones and was meant to ensure that “no student feels alienated because of his or her personal beliefs or experiences”.

He said: “Societies wishing to hold meetings just for society members do not have to abide by this rule. It is also worth mentioning that this clause works both ways and as such any pro-choice open event is also obliged to invite an opposing speaker and independent chair.”

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