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Challenges on campus

In this month’s FAITH BY DEGREES, Sean Deighan, the president of Strathclyde University’s Catholic Society, tells the Scottish Network of Catholic Students of the challenges that face voices of faith, hope and charity on modern university campuses

For the past three years, the Catholic Society at Strathclyde has grown rapidly from just five or six students meeting up a couple of times a semester to dozens of students going to weekly meetings. As the society has grown, it has begun interacting with the wider Catholic community in a variety of events including pro-life marches, helping out at diocesan youth events and charity work. We hope that this new lease of life from the society and its increased level of activity will set the tone for years to come and hopefully, that the wider student community will soon experience the fruits of this evangelisation.

But StrathCath has only been an officially Students’ Union (SU) affiliated society for the past two years and so is still working on integrating itself properly to the university campus. In this integration period, we have faced considerable challenges, including having difficulty booking rooms in which to meet and, more recently, taking on the union’s stance on abortion. The SU has, since 1999, constitutionally held the view that all pro-life activism and any moves towards challenging the existing abortion laws will not be tolerated on campus and that no pro-life society may exist or benefit from SU-sanctioned funding or assistance. We at the Catholic society were first made aware of this in December 2014 when three members of the society were denied funding to attend an SPUC (above) conference as delegates from the university’s student body. Since then we have been organising ourselves and gathering support from various other university societies in order to change this policy, which is, of course, a fundamental infringement upon the freedoms of speech, association, and belief. On November 10 this year, we forwarded a motion to the Strathclyde student parliament’ to remove this clause from their constitution which, as mentioned, effectively states that all pro-life activism is banned at Strathclyde and that all societies that are pro-life are banned. Laura Seggie, vice president of StrathCath, spoke first to the parliament on the issue, and stated that we were open to discussion on the issue of abortion (and indeed other pro-life issues) but reminded them that to simply not allow us to exist as a society that is openly pro-life was very contrary to two of the core values on which our society is founded: freedom of speech and freedom of belief. Two more members of the society addressed the Parliament and made similar appeals but—as expected—our words fell on the deaf ears of those who seemingly have no problem marginalising a minority group.

Our motion was rejected and our suggested amendments defeated, however whatever the decision of a very small and unrepresentative student parliament,’if inconsistent with UK law on freedom of belief, is completely void, and so they can be rest assured we will take our case as high as needs be to make our voices on this issue allowed to be heard. This experience will be familiar to many other students from the other Catholic societies within the network, and indeed even beyond Scotland’s borders. A Catholic society sadly can and does face many issues and difficulties on a university campus, but we are constantly reminded by our faith that the right way is not always the easy one, and that bearing witness to the truth of Christ and committing to our Baptismal promises are the most important aspects of our lives. This speaks of the fundamental importance of associations of young Catholics during their time at university, and the smart decision of our bishops to endorse and support this as mentioned in the article last month. It’s that being true to our values and persevering in the face of adversity has brought us at Strathclyde a remarkable bond of fellowship among our society members and, to the dismay of the SU I’m sure, encouraged us to redouble our efforts and our prayers to counteract any efforts to silence us.

—You can like the University of Strathclyde Catholic Society on Facebook, and follow the group on twitter @StrathCath. —

—Like the Scottish Network of Catholic Students at https://www.facebook.com/scotncs and follow the Network’s twitter @TheSNCS.

—Faith by Degrees takes over from where Strong in Faith left off before the summer

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