Universities UK, a body that represents most of the universities in the country, recently issued a document External Speakers in Higher Education Institutions. This was intended “to provide practical assistance to universities in steering a path through all the different considerations, legal and otherwise, that arise in the context of inviting external speakers on campus.”
One section of the guidelines, “Case Study 2: Segregation” (Chapter 3: External Speaker Case Studies) has come in for considerable criticism, since it appears to condone segregation of men and women for religious reasons at public events if demanded by a speaker .
Part of the offending opinion runs as follows:
It should therefore be borne in mind – taking account of the s.43 duty, as well as equality duties and Human Rights Act obligations – that in these circumstances, concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system…
Those opposed to segregation are entitled to engage in lawful protest…but their views do not require an institution to stifle a religious society’s segregated debate where the segregation accords with a genuinely-held religious belief.
My impression is that UUK are treading as carefully as they can on a path strewn with numerous legal traps accreted over the years by various government bodies, both national and European (the EU and the Council of Europe both have a hand in the legislation). To satisfy one group would be to antagonise and offend another, and the last thing anyone wants is a legal challenge. In our modern, diversity-and-equality-obsessed, (post-)multicultural society, religion ends up trumping the law and giving offence is the biggest crime of all.
So it’s free speech for bigots only.
Ironic, isn’t it, that the human rights industry has now got itself into such a righteous mess that sexism can be justified on religious grounds?