Christian Union banned from Balliol freshers’ fair

A JCR motion has condemned the move as a “violation of free speech”

Balliol College, Oxford. (Steve Cadman/Flickr).

Balliol JCR prevented Christian Union (CU) representatives from attending its college freshers’ fair, a leaked email chain seen by Cherwell reveals.

The JCR committee initially attempted to prevent any CU representation whatsoever, stating that it wanted the freshers’ fair to be a “secular space” as it “couldn’t guarantee every major belief system” would be represented, which risked “alienating” new students.

Following discussions between the CU and the JCR Vice President Freddy Potts, permission for a single multifaith stall was granted, but only on the condition that it had no representative of any society manning it. This meant that no member of any religious society was able to exhibit at the fair or speak to freshers.

While JCR President Hubert Au stated that this conclusion had been reached through discussions with the JCR Welfare subcommittee and the college CU, his comments were described as “misleading” by a CU representative.

The ban has led to a backlash within Balliol, with a JCR motion passed unanimously tonight accusing the JCR of “barring the participation of specific faith-based organizations” and describing the step as “a violation of free speech [and] a violation of religious freedom”.

It states: “the Balliol JCR should not make judgements regarding the legitimacy of faith groups or religious expression.”

The motion prohibits the JCR from barring any official religious societies from participation in the Balliol freshers’ fair in future.

During the initial email exchange, JCR Vice President Freddy Potts, on behalf of the JCR Welfare Subcommittee, justified the ban by telling a CU representative: “We recognise the wonderful advantages in having CU representatives at the Fresher’s Fair, but are concerned that there is potential for harm to freshers who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford.”

He added: “Our sole concern is that the presence of the CU alone may alienate incoming students. This sort of alienation or micro-aggression is regularly dismissed as not important enough to report, especially when there is little to no indication that other students or committee members may empathise, and inevitably leads to further harm of the already most vulnerable and marginalised groups.

“Historically, Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”

The CU representative replied that they were “not sure that it was appropriate or relevant for the JCR Committee to point this out in a discussion about Balliol CU; in the same way this would be inappropriate in conversion with many other faith groups”.

According to a Facebook post by JCR President Hubert Au, a single multifaith stall did ultimately go ahead with “representation” from four separate Christian groups. It is understood that as a result of the ban the Balliol CU refused to attend the fair or license any material distributed on behalf of the CU.

Au said: “Ultimately, it was reached to have a multifaith stall rather than a CU stall specifically, in light of both concerns raised by members Welfare Sub and by an undergraduate survey conducted last term which indicated a lack of familiarity as to where non-Christian societies, events and services were located.”

He added: “We didn’t want to monopolise the presence of any individual faith/belief society at the Balliol freshers’ fair.” Neither Au nor Potts have responded to Cherwell‘s requests for comment.

The Balliol Christian Union is affiliated to the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, a society which represents Christian undergraduate and postgraduate students from across the University. The Union states its main aim as “giving every student in Oxford University the chance to hear and respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article was amended to clarify that comments made by Balliol JCR Vice President Freddy Potts conveyed the collective view of the JCR Welfare Subcommittee.


  1. An absolute disgrace. Freddy Potts has long been an outspoken source of bigoted idiocy on various Oxford Facebook communities, but even for him, this is bizarre. Good on the Balliol JCR for standing up for religious freedom everywhere. I hope Freddy is made an example of for Social Justice Warriors everywhere who think that they can suppress the opinions and voices of others in order to have their own opinions heard loudest.

    • And another thing; if these bloody lefties weren’t so PC all the time about everything, perhaps I could get a date. I’ve always wanted to invite Masculinist philosopher Roosh V to speak at the Union, but with all this nonsense about female speaker quotas and the generally censorious tone of that formerly-great institution ruined by femin(azi)sts, that’s looking less likely. The world should hear my thoughts; I am very important.

    • Yes, great comments from Alex. I am from Down Under, Australia, similar bouts of opposition happening here to the silencing of freedom of speech across the land. A stand has to be taken. So glad the Balliol JCR made a much better decision second time around!

  2. I’m all for ripping apart politicians (even jcr level ones) when they get too powerful but I’m honestly disgusted by how uninformed this article is. Your ‘leaked’ email chain was sent by the CU and the committee to all members of the college to clarify what had happened; you’d think you’d have actually read it properly before writing such a misrepresentative, inflammatory and harmful article- especially since most of us at Balliol actually read the emails and are quite unsure about the basic decency, and indeed legality, of your statements about specific students. It was clear in the emails that the responses were drafted by welfare subcommittee and merely sent by Potts, given that they are the ones actually in charge of our welfare and comfort here. Also, just a note that this was released literally 10 minutes after the end of the general meeting so I’m not sure how you expected Au or Potts to respond; I guess the need to create drama is more important than professional standards.

  3. ‘Ultimately, it was reached to have a multifaith stall rather than a CU stall specifically, in light of both concerns raised by members Welfare Sub and by an undergraduate survey conducted last term which indicated a lack of familiarity as to where non-Christian societies, events and services were located.’

    Au says (quoted in the article) that the reason above is the reason why Potts took the action he did. This is a silly response to the issue stated. The advertising of non-Christian societies, events, and services, should be improved – rather than banning the CU from having their own stall.

  4. I’m rather surprised that the promoter of this ban, did not take time to investigate Christianity more fully before jumping to conclusions. He is as guilty as others of listening to sound bite nonsense from the media. Christians have done bad things and have made mistakes. They have also done a huge amount of good. William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury, Elizabeth Fry, Mother Theresa and so on. I am a Christian and welcome everyone of whatever ethnicity, gender, orientation, creed, language or colour into my life and into my home. And so do my fellow Christians. There are always exceptions. But as Jesus said, “by their works, you shall know them”. I used to work at Balliol, and find this report so disappointing.

  5. Just to clarify a few things which this article is misleading about:

    *At no point was Freddy acting unilaterally – for the most part he was communicating the results of discussions held by the JCR committee, especially the welfare subcommittee
    *The idea behind an unmanned stall was to ensure equality – most other religious societies in the university would not have had the resources or the people available to have their own stall, and there were also space constraints within the JCR.
    *The university wide Christian Union was represented at the Freshers Fair, while the Balliol CU declined to contribute anything to the multifaith stall
    *The emails were not ‘leaked’ – all of the correspondence leading up to the decision was shared with the jcr for the purposes of transparency
    *Au and Potts were only contacted for comment a few minutes before the GM began, and the article was posted before it finished – neither was given the time or opportunity to respond

  6. Step outside the safe space of Europe, Mr Potts, into Africa and the Middle East and you will find there is, not just micro-aggression, but slaughter of Christians by other more violent religions. Some Christian communities there date back two thousand years and owe nothing to white imperialism. You might prefer to ignore that as not fitting a Progressive Atheist narrative.

    The age of authentic liberation, as opposed to snowflake progressiveness, at Balliol was 1382AD when the Master of Balliol, John Wycliffe, produced the first English translation of the bible. 150 years later Tyndale’s printed bible secured this freedom for good.

    It is impossible to overestimate the importance of enabling the ordinary English Harry, at his plough, or Mary, at the spinning wheel, to hear the bible in English. The ordinary people were at last trusted to know what they were expected to believe. Contrast with today. Now we have a belief system imposed on us, Progressiveness, which is shy to tell us what it is about and what is its end-game. So the progressive left takes us back pre-1382 undoing the transformative freedom first tentatively won at Balliol.

    • James Brookes was Master of Balliol when he presided with the powers of the Inquisition over the trials of Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer, having them burned at the stake at the gates to the College.

      I think this rather Whig history of religion in the College starts, at the very least, a couple of centuries too early.

  7. We demand for the immediate resignation of Hubert Au and Freddy Potts! These bigots cannot be tolerated anymore. They need to be shamed!

  8. Absolute disgrace .. let’s cancel Christmas now!! Holidays.. close the churches … this is the spine of our society and whoever took this decision is unable to balance the things in our lives and society which give us a solid foundation and fabric. You should be ashamed …

  9. Actually Christianity is not homophobic just that certain clergy assert authority of homophobic readings in violation of James 2, 9-10. I can easily prove that in court. In fact, a secular space is a homophobic and anti-Semitic notion based on corrupt modern ‘science’. It denies fair Jews and fair gays the fair path to a God of fair rights. I am a physicist expert in foundations for science and theology. I am currently preparing a book ‘The Fair Rights Foundation to Science & Theology’. It is, of course, not possible to get support for it in a university as ‘outside the system’. If I was a student, I would sue for tuition fees back at any delay in introducing proper science and theology in schools.

  10. This incident is horrendous. Noted that there are various reasons (and excuses) as to how and why the decision was taken, nonetheless the result effectively has been persecution of religion. It is all the more errant and possibly even thoughtless, given the strong and positive influence of Christian peoples on the College and the great history of Christianity in this nation. Perhaps I am being unfair / excessive, but somebody needs to take responsibility for such a decision and stand down from his/her responsibilities. We cannot allow persecution to be allowed to be openly conducted without any sort of correction.

  11. […] and it really shouldn’t have. Oxford’s Cherwell newspaper originally carried it: ‘Christian Union banned from Balliol freshers’ fair‘, which was kind of true, but swift enquiries to primary sources established a number of […]


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