UNIVERSITIES, which should by rights be in the vanguard of the battle for freedom of religion and expression, are heading the charge against it. Anyone, or any student group, expressing ‘pro-life’ views today faces eradication from the campus. The University of Stirling is the latest to enforce this intimidatory totalitarian tendency. It recently suspended its Student Catholic Society after an advert for the 40 Days for Life Campaign was posted by the group on its social media page. That was the particular offence. The crime was the broader one of promoting the traditional and long-established belief in the sanctity of life at all.
While the specific matter was eventually resolved, the incident highlights a growing problem across the UK: the increasing hostility faced by pro-life students and attempts to silence them for merely acting in accordance with their conscience and faith. And it looks set to get worse.
The rise in (apparently now acceptable) anti-Christian sentiment is all too evident in repeated statements about the suspension of Stirling’s Student Catholic Society made on social media, including one made by an official at the Students’ Union whose censorious language seemed designed to shut down debate and discussion about an important matter of public policy.
There were other deplorable comments which were just inaccurate and untrue. These too were recycled on social media at an alarming rate,
fanned by those who either in a quest to promote their virtue-signalling credentials for political reasons, or because they seem to have a grudge against those who disagree with them, use rhetoric designed to increase of hostility towards the pro-life and shut down debate.
It is terrifying that pro-lifers are being painted as ‘extremists’ to be silenced merely for maintaining traditional Christian views and a belief that we must show respect towards all human beings from conception until death. It is likely this suppression will get worse once buffer zones are introduced in Scotland and elsewhere. This legislation will stop people from carrying out any hitherto legal activity which might discourage someone from an abortion, including prayer. Remember the chilling case of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who was arrested near a clinic for ‘silently praying’, allegedly breaching a public space protection order (PSPO) designed to prevent anti-social behaviour. So it is deeply concerning to see Green Party MSP Gillian Mackay push for legislation, on a nationwide basis, which will take us another step in the direction of an authoritarian state that decides where all members of society can or cannot pray or think when it comes to unborn children and their mothers.
This behaviour from both Westminster and Holyrood is a disgrace to the free society we are meant to live in and demonises anyone who opposes abortion because of its reality – the taking of life from an innocent human being. It demonstrates, too, the rise in hostility towards Christian principles and normalisation of anti-Christian sentiment which will be used to pressure Christians against standing up for their faith. Freedom of thought and prayer is not the business of the state and should be protected as a basic liberty, necessary if the view that there’s a right to life is to be protected.
While there have been some brave parliamentarians who expressed concerns about legislation in Westminster, in Edinburgh even the politicians who usually stand up for religious freedom have been disappointingly quiet. There is still time for them to act.
The teaching of free speech and religious tolerance must start in our schools and carry on into campuses. Universities should be a place where ideas can be debated and talked about respectfully, including the rights and wrongs of abortion. But this will not happen on its own. Those MSPs at Holyrood who say they value freedom of speech in Scotland must bring forward legislation that will protect it.
Any of them who wish to take action have a ready-made solution for them – a Westminster Bill which is supported by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (of which I am a member) and ADF, the faith-based legal advocacy organisation which aims to help safeguard the rights of pro-lifers and others who express traditional views and those views from being eradicated from campuses.