Oxford Students for Life

Promoting a culture of life in the University and beyond

Tag: OSFL

OSFL Statement on the Report on Freedom of Speech in Universities

OSFL members ready to share the hope that the pro-life movement brings, uninhibited by concerns about freedom of speech

Last week saw the release of a report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights about Freedom of Speech in Universities. The report synthesises evidence from a wide range of groups and sources, discussing a large variety of cases where students have had their free speech limited in the university setting. Some of the factors identified as inhibiting free speech include no platforming policies and safe spaces, misapplication of the prevent duty, and over-zealous bureaucracy.

While it recognises that the media has exaggerated the extent of the suppression of free speech (Paragraph 35), the report acknowledges that there have been incidents where free speech has been inhibited. The protest organised by the Women’s Campaign against our Abortion in Ireland event in November 2017 forms part of the body of evidence indicating that some protests deny freedom of speech to those against whom they are protesting. In our press release at the time of the event, we noted that ‘WomCam of course have a right to freedom to expression. But a right to freedom of speech does not mean the right to prevent other people from speaking’, a principle which has been affirmed by this report, which asserts that ‘when protests become so disruptive that they prevent the speakers from speaking or intimidate those attending’, then ‘freedom of expression is unduly interfered with’ (Paragraph 42). It is encouraging that the report stresses the duty of universities to ‘initiate disciplinary measures if individual students or student groups seek to stop legal speech, or breach the institution’s code of conduct on freedom of speech’ (Paragraph 50), and for the police to intervene in cases where protesters are committing criminal acts.

The report acknowledges that there are sometimes proper, legal restrictions on free speech, ‘where speech leads to unlawful harassment of individuals or groups protected by the Equality Act 2010’ (Paragraph 54). However, it is also noted that free speech encompasses the right to say things which others may find offensive, and that ‘unless it is unlawful, speech should normally be allowed’ (Paragraph 54).

Another important area highlighted by the report is the subtle effects of bureaucracy which can act as a ‘disincentive’ for students in organising events and can thus have a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech (Paragraph 37). This is an issue which has affected OSFL in recent times; problems related to bureaucracy which we have encountered in the last few months include delayed response time to inquiries about room bookings (in one case, a request submitted seven weeks in advance was only finalised five weeks later), and difficult conditions imposed on room usage such as not being allowed to take photos, only being allowed to advertise events internally, and having to pay for a security guard for our events. It is therefore encouraging that the report recognises the hurdles that face societies in exercising their right to freedom of speech and the subtle, but nonetheless serious, ways in which bureaucracy can be inhibiting.

In light of OSFL’s situation, in which protests are a potential reality, the report’s recommendation that security should be provided for events where necessary, and that this should be funded by the university (Paragraph 95), is very welcome, as small student societies such as OSFL will struggle if the burden and cost of defending their right to freedom of speech and preventing protests is laid at their feet.

Given the challenges to free speech noted in the report, it is a relief that several measures to be taken to secure free speech in the university setting are laid out. In addition to the measures already mentioned, the recent introduction of the Office for Students is also discussed, with its role denoted as that of monitoring and overseeing free speech within universities (Paragraph 27). The denouncement of the use of safe spaces insofar as they seek to inhibit free speech (Paragraph 6) is also encouraging.

Following the publication of this report, OSFL are hopeful that we will be able to continue our work in promoting a culture of life at the university uninhibited. We hope that the proposals for the protection of free speech are implemented as outlined in the report, and that the Office for Students will commit to removing the barriers and burdens inhibiting free speech, such that freedom of speech in universities is protected and promoted.

Freedom of Speech in Universities: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201719/jtselect/jtrights/589/589.pdf [Accessed on 28/03/2018]

Statement from Oxford Students for Life Responding to Oxford SU’s “Right to protest, Right to choose” statement

With their latest statement, WomCam have decided to double down on their attack on free speech, while claiming that they are doing no such thing.

They claim in their statement that they “were not protesting Oxford Students for Life or their speakers’ right to free speech” and that they “were not breaking the law”.

We’ve received legal advice that WomCam were breaking the law precisely because they were denying our freedom of speech.

Under Section 43 of the Education (No 2) Act 1986, the University is required “to issue and keep up to date a code of practice to be followed by all members, students and employees of the University for the organisation of meetings and other events”.

The code of practice is as follows:

“Members, students and employees of the University must conduct themselves at meetings and other events on University and OUSU premises so as to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the University and for visiting speakers. The University believes that a culture of free, open and robust discussion can be achieved only if all concerned avoid needlessly offensive or provocative action and language. The freedom protected by this Code of Practice is confined to the exercise of freedom of speech within the law.”

Given that the protesters shouted down the event continuously for 40 minutes, called the attendees and speakers “anti-choice bigots”, gave attendees the middle finger, and blocked the projector screen, we’re confident that they engaged in “needlessly offensive or provocative action and language” and did not “conduct themselves at meetings and other events on University and OUSU premises so as to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the University and for visiting speakers.”

Considering Oxford SU’s statement that “Bodily autonomy is not up for debate”, they confirm in their statement itself that they were not acting to facilitate “open and robust discussion”.

We’ve received legal advice that had they protested outside, or even staged a walk-out, they would have been within their rights. But disrupting the event for 40 minutes in this way breached the University’s Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech. By ignoring security requests to leave the venue, they were also guilty of aggravated trespass.

WomCam of course have a right to freedom to expression. But a right to freedom of speech does not mean the right to prevent other people from speaking.

Press Release: Oxford Students for Life Expresses Sadness and Anger at Disruptive Protest by Oxford SU WomCam

Oxford Students for Life have expressed their sadness and anger at “a deliberate attempt to shut down discussion and dialogue through harassment and bullying”. The disruptive protest was organised by the Oxford SU Women’s Campaign to target OSFL’s “Abortion in Ireland” event on Wednesday 1st November at St John’s College.

Anna Branford, co-president of OSFL explains: “At the beginning of the event, I explicitly welcomed all people, whatever their views, to the talk, and emphasised that the format of the evening was such that half the time would be allotted to the two speakers – Breda O’Brien of the Irish Times and barrister Lorcan Price – and the other half would be fully open to questions.

“One minute into her presentation, a group of approximately fifteen protesters from the Oxford SU’s WomCam stood up and chanted slogans to shout down Breda and prevent her from being heard. It was impossible for the committee or security to engage in any meaningful manner with the protesters. This continued for approximately forty minutes: protesters shouted, jeered, stood in front of the projector and chanted from a pre-prepared “chant sheet” including ‘Pro-life, that’s a lie, you don’t care if women die’.”

OSFL secretary, Georgia Clarke, said: “the saddening reality was that we were not given any opportunity to respond to these hurtful claims, nor give any justification for our views. Instead, we were bullied into silence.”

Anna Branford went on to say: “We had attempted to create an atmosphere in which all views were welcome and everyone would have a chance to speak, but were instead met with shouting, middle fingers and vitriol. Realising that they were uninterested in talking, some of us made signs of our own. I held one that said “ I’m a woman, where is my right to speak?”, while Georgia carried one saying “Is this what dialogue looks like?

“St John’s had hired security because they knew there would be a protest of some kind. They asked the protesters to leave multiple times and were ignored. One of the security guards tried to remove one of the protesters and there was a brief altercation.

“On foot of that, the security guard called the police as they were now guilty of aggravated trespassing. Eventually, the speakers were moved into another room and the protesters were left to shout themselves out, but not before gathering outside the window of the second room and banging on the windows while continuing to shout at the people inside.”

She went on to say: “It is such a shame that the protesters never listened to what we actually had to say. Had they heard Breda O’Brien’s presentation, they would have realised just how much we do care if women die, contrary to their chanting, and they would have heard the truth about Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death. Their disruption and refusal to engage meant that we could not show them the evidence that Ireland is as safe a place to give birth as the UK.

She continued: “I was disappointed that we never managed to discuss the issue with the protesters or engage in any kind of debate with them, but I was glad that we were eventually able to continue with the event and they had ultimately failed to achieve their goal of silencing us.”

Georgia Clarke added: “The irony was that the actions of Oxford SU’s WomCam, which ought to represent women of the university, resulted in the harassment of many women present for the event, some of whom were driven to tears. As committee members, we have a duty of care to those who attend our events, and it was distressing not being able to provide the supportive and open environment we had promised. We invited students to hear speakers, not to be shouted at. The shouting essentially amounted to an attempt to no-platform our speakers. In being party to this protest, the Oxford SU is making us feel like neither we, nor our views, are welcome to even be heard in this university.”

Freshers’ Fair Adventures

Ben Conroy shares some of his expertise on representing Oxford Students For Life at the annual Freshers’ Fair.

The Oxford Fresher’s Fair is an experience. With around 3,500 new students passing by your stand over the course of the fair, (minus anyone who sleeps through their slot) and a couple of hundred other stands to compete with for their attention, it gets intense.

I’ve now done one fair as a participant and two behind the stand, and these are some of the main tips that I’ve learned from the experience.

Invite people to talk.

It’s good to have both a hawker’s cry and an introductory pitch. The first one is for getting people to come to the stall. We use some variant of “human rights, life ethics and free flower seeds!” (you can’t give out food or sweets at the Oxford fair and we like the “seeds of life” symbolism). Once you’ve made eye contact, give them a quick pitch for what exactly your society’s about and why they should come to your events. It also helps to have a cool-looking stand!

You’re there to invite people to a conversation, not start one.

It can be tempting to engage people in debates about the issues at the stand: but that’s a waste of both their time and yours. They have a load of other stands to go through, and you have a lot more people to talk to – they’re walking past all the time. You want to invite people to sign up to your mailing list, come to events, and chat to them there.

But be willing to have a brief chat.

You can have all sorts of interesting brief conversations with people if the opportunity presents itself (when they’re writing down their name and email for example). I had a great chat this year with someone about our shared appreciation for CS Lewis, while another person offered to help the society fundraise. Interactions can sometimes get weird: during my first shift this year one guy left our stand only to come back with a bunch of flowers for my stand partner and fellow committee member before vanishing again. It’s also great to develop a rapport with the people on the stands around you – it’s a long day at the fair and you can use some stallholder solidarity.

Be unapologetically pro-life, and unapologetically civil.

The unofficial Oxford Students for Life motto is never more appropriate than at Fresher’s Fair. We’re totally up front about being the University Pro-Life society and what we stand for, but we’re also keen to emphasise that we welcome people of all views on abortion, assisted dying etc. to our events. We almost never get anyone actively hostile (the worst is usually a “not interested” or a grumpy look), and several times someone who initially seemed sceptical ended up enthusiastically signing up.

On that note…

Have an event people of all views will be interested in.

Our first event this term was a talk by Ryan Day of Alliance Defending Freedom on the theme “Whose Life Is Worth Living”, discussing, among other things, some of the ethical issues raised by the tragic Charlie Gard case. That’s an issue that doesn’t cut along standard pro-life and pro-choice lines, and we had a lot of interest in it from people of all persuasions on the stand. Later on in the term we have a discussion of conscientious objection for medics that also drew interest.

Have fun!

If your university has a fresher’s fair or something like it, it’s an excellent opportunity to talk to so many people about your society and pitch yourselves and your events. And you never know what might happen: the conversation I had with the OSFL team as a fresher was instrumental in getting me to join the committee and spending the next two fairs behind the stand.

Ben Conroy is in his third year, studying PPE at St John’s.

How to be pro-life at university

Whether you’re the President of the Pro-Life Society or yet to come out of the ‘pro-life closet’ as it were, university gives us all a fantastic opportunity to really make a difference in the pro-life movement. While we may not be able to give anything from our rapidly depleting overdrafts we certainly can give our talents and time (especially if, like me, you rarely have more than 8 contact hours a week). So what can you do with that time?

Get involved with your SU!

You may not think student politics is your thing, and often you’ll spend hours debating over whether a printing charge of 5p a sheet is ‘normalised classism’ at the hands of higher education establishments, I know. But, when a pro-choice motion appears, blatant censorship or something else that you feel strongly about, you’ll be glad that you not only know how your union’s ‘political’ system works but (hopefully!) you will have made some friends along the way in respected positions who will be more than happy to stand by your side. At the end of the day it is just as much your student union as it is a pro-choicer’s. Students’ Unions are there to represent students. All of them. So make sure that your voice is heard! How can you do this? See what the student voice team at your university has on offer – there will probably be committees, councils and execs that you can sit on, or, if you’re feeling confident, run in your union’s elections!

Start a conversation!

Be open to having that pro-life debate – when life issues comes up in conversation it is often so much easier to stay quiet or act as if you don’t have an opinion on the matter. However, without getting too philosophical about it, one could argue that not speaking up is just as bad as actively speaking against – acting by omission, as it were. So how do you have this pro-life discussion and conduct yourself in a pro-life way? OSFL said it best when they described themselves as uncompromisingly civil and uncompromisingly pro-life because it’s not what you say but how you say it that will be remembered. Being happy and caring when you speak to people goes a long way in busting the negative stereotypes people seem to have of pro-lifers and it becomes a conversation that people want to have. An entire blog could be written on how to have a pro-life conversation, and in fact it has, by OSFL alumni Greg Jackson so take a look here!

Being able to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, be that the unborn, elderly or vulnerable, is an absolute joy. So, brush up on your apologetics and next time you’re down the pub and things get a little heated, question them – informal conversations amongst friends on pro-life issues are a fantastic way to be pro-life on campus.

Be proactive!

As pro-lifers we always seem to be on the defensive, constantly reacting. Let’s be proactive! What support is there for student parents at your university? If a friend of yours were to become unexpectedly pregnant would she find the support that she needs at your university and the possibility to make a true choice or would she simply be ushered down to the nearest clinic? Are there baby changing facilities? A crèche that is affordable to students and not just staff members? Halls of residence for families (including non-mature students)? Is any of this information easily accessible from both the university’s and the SU’s website? If a student chose to take an interruption of study how would this impact upon their studies? Is there someone that women can speak to if they have been hurt by abortion? What about the men at your university? Is there confidential support available to them too? How about those with disabilities? Are they given just as much opportunity as you or I to get a degree at your university? Research and discover for yourself what you can do to ensure that your university is more pro-life. One way to do this is working together with your pro-life society, if you have one, or with APS, to submit a motion to your SU’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) such as a Student Parent Support Motion that outlines your expectations and, if passed by the student body, becomes a policy at your SU, or pass a Free Speech Motion to help ensure you aren’t censored simply due to disagreements.

aps

The Alliance of Pro-Life Students

Volunteer and Fundraise!

Put your pro-life values into action by volunteering! See if your local care home needs an extra pair of hands now and again, spend time with people with disabilities or see if a mother in your neighbourhood could use a babysitter while she studies!

As well as volunteers, pro-life organisations are also always looking for fundraisers! Why not have fun while fundraising for a pro-life charity? Have a bake-off with friends and charge a couple pounds for entry, do a fun-run, organise a talent competition, sell hand-made cards or donate your clothes to a pro-life charity shop.

Pro-life societies!

Last but by no means least … join the pro-life society, or better yet, get yourself on the committee! No pro-life society? Start one – APS can help! Not quite up to starting a society but want a pro-life presence? Get in contact with APS and we will help you organise a pro-life talk – see if you can team up with some of your university’s faith societies, debating society or even the Women’s Association – you don’t have to be a society to organise an event!

osfl-freshers-fair

Oxford Students for Life at the Freshers’ Fair

Finally …

Remember that you aren’t alone! Go to a pro-life conference or event, meet other young pro-lifers, particularly student pro-lifers who are fighting the same battle alongside you, just at different institutions. The Alliance of Pro-Life Students, as well as other organisations are constantly organising nationwide events for you to connect with other young pro-lifers (such as our Celebration & Fundraiser on Thursday) so go along!

So, why does all this matter? Why is it so important to be pro-life at your university? I could write an entire series just on that but I’ll keep it short!

In 2015, “the abortion rate was highest for women aged 21 (at 28.7 per 1,000). The highest rate in 2014 was for women aged 22 (at 28.5 per 1,000 – see the graph below).”[1] The truth of the matter is that the age bracket with the highest number of abortions is for women aged 18-24 … in others words by university students! We need pro-life voices on campuses across Great Britain more than ever. So how can you be pro-life at university? By simply speaking up, whether it is by holding a large scale debate or by the small conversations you have with your friends; you never know what seeds you will be sowing, and while you may not see the fruits of that labour, one day, an unborn child just might.

osfl-stat

 

This is the first post in a series on being pro-life at university.

Mads Page is the Student Support Officer at the Alliance of Pro-Life Students

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/529344/Abortion_Statistics_2015_v3.pdf

Looking at the year ahead: a welcome from your co-president.

Dear OSFL-ers,

It is so exciting to finally welcome you back to Oxford and more specifically to Oxford Students for Life as the new co-president for this year! The committee is really looking forward to sharing with you our ideas and seeing many of you at our events this term.

  term-card

One thing that I would like to point out to you all is our Fresher’s Move In event in 1st week- we have collected some amazing nick-nacks that we are willing to GIVE AWAY! From beautiful room decorations to tea towels (if you’re anything like me, then you forgot to bring things like that) to photo frames. Please encourage any freshers you know to come along (and even if you’re not a fresher you’re more than welcome anyway). There will be drinks and snacks available and it is a really great opportunity to meet those of you I don’t know so well and tell you about our events.

new-and-old-committee

Committee members, old and new.

Secondly, there is an OUSU council meeting in 1st week that will include whether OUSU should affiliate with an abortion supporter/provider (such as BPAS, Abortion Rights, Amnesty International). If you are able to, please ask your JCR president if you could have the extra vote (your college gets 3 votes- 1 for the JCR president, 1 for the OUSU rep and 1 extra) so that you can come along and vote against this. Please message or email OSFL if you would like some more information about why you should oppose the motion. Then in 3rd and 4th week, we have several events planned for Pro-Life Feminism Fortnight.

Finally, you are all very welcome at any of our events and we are open to chat whenever you would like to. I’m so thrilled to be serving OSFL this year and cannot wait to get to know you all. The pro-life network is really blossoming and I believe we could be the pro-life generation. Keep preaching love, because all life matters.

Yours,

Georgia

For more information on events, including dates, timings, and venues, please visit our website or Facebook page.

Georgia Clarke is co-president of OSFL