The Brothers Serapion, Castro and Guevara (no, I’m not kidding) – AKA Assed Baig and Darrel Williams – have posted an update to their situation with Matthew Boulton College, noting that they have now been expelled for publishing an underground newsletter that criticised the college’s policy of banning religious groups from campus and the apparent rudeness and heavy-handed attitude of security guards.
From their comments, the grounds under which the college has taken this action appear rather vague – causing ‘offence’ to other students seems to be the only specific thing mentioned.
Of course its difficult to take a definitive view of this in the absence of the full facts of the matter; the college, itself, is noticably refusing to comment on this case or publicly justify its actions, which is often a sure sign that it knows its in the wrong but deperately hoping this whole thing will go away if they ignore it for long enough.
However, there seem any number of points on which the two students in question have substantive grounds for complaint, not least of which are the college’s own rules which prohibit:
Extreme political or other organised activities which try to restrict individual freedom.
A principle which doesn’t appear, in this case, to include the freedom to criticise the college itself despite those same rule stating that they apply to:
Everyone who works or studies in the College.
Then there’s the human rights aspects of this matter, in which the college – which as a public authority is bound by the Human Right Act 1998 – is clearly disregarding articles 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and 11 (freedom of peaceful assembly and association) in banning religious groups from campus, to which they can now add article 10 (freedom of expression) by virtue of expelling students for expressing an opinion on their disregard for the other two articles.
We do need to be clear about the parameters under which these articles are relevant; the college may be under no express obligation to provide facilities for meetings of religious groups, unless it does so for one in which case it must do so for all under aticle 14 which prohibits discrimination, although that point is arguable if the college provides facilities for other organised groups, in particular those of a political nature.
Nevertheless, even if not obliged to facilitate such meetings, it has no express grounds upon which to prohibit such meetings taking place in communal areas such as Student Union facilities.
Still on the subject of human rights, I notice that the college’s disciplinary procedure appears to make no provisions for personal hearings in disciplinary case, which if true would but them potentially in breach of article 6 (right to a fair trial) which is well establishd in case law as being applicable no only to courts but a wide range of other quasi-judicial situations and tribunals.
Against this there is ECHR case law in the matter of article 9 which upholds Turkey’s ban on the wearing of Islamic headscarves in Turkish schools and colleges, case law which at first sight seems at odds with the UK High Court’s judgement in the Begim case although the two are not so incompatible as might first appear as, in both judgement, the relevant courts draw distinctions between legimate personal religious expression and proselytising acts which impinge on the freedoms of, or put undue pressure, on non-believers.
This is a situation that is, therefore, not so clear cut as the two students in question might believe, but still an arguable one and as such there can be no real justification for the college’s actions in moving to suppress dissenting opinion.
The rationale for the blanket ban on religious groups on campus is patently transparent. Birmingham has a significant Islamic population, particularly in the inner-city areas from which the college sraws much of its student body and it is specifically Islamic groups the college wishes to ban, for fear that these may prove a breeding ground for extremism. The ban on all religious groups is merely an artifice to circumvent prohibitions on discrimination against a specific group by discriminating against everyone equally.
This could, conceivably, be ruled legal should this case lead to court proceedings but that does not make it any the less an intellectually dishonest course of action and, as such, the college can have no reasonable grounds for complaint if members of its student body choose to point that out nor is it justified in expelling students who do precisely that.
As such there is the distinct stench of moral cowardice in the college’s actions.
The last word on this, I’ll leave to Benjamin Franklin, a contemporary of any correspondent with the Birmingham Lunar Society, of which Matthew Boulton was a prominent member.
Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.