The people who run Britain’s universities have lost their moral compass.
byÂ John M. Joyce
I had become aware of the ‘gender segregation at university events’ issue just a little time before Esme published her excellent report about itÂ here at The Iconoclast. By the time I read her article I had already sent off an email to Universities UK expressing my displeasure. Here is the text of that email, and after it the reply that I received.
My original email:
I note from reports in the press that Universities UK has stated that it is alright to segregate audiences by gender at universities in Great Britain in order to accommodate the religious beliefs of a highly vocal minority.
I must object to this silly decision. It is never, I repeat never, alright in a free liberal western democracy to segregate audiences for any reason – be that reason, gender, colour of skin, sexual orientation, or some other perceived difference. Pandering to primitive and divisive religious beliefs at higher institutions of learning is abhorrent and runs contrary to all academic standards, and philosophical standards, as well as sending an exceedingly poor message to the public at large about the social and legal value of the respective genders.
We all know from having read the ‘hadith’ and the Koran that some Muslims, in particular, use their Scriptures to justify discrimination against women, who, in general, are stated to be inferior to men in some verses in those writings, and that these Muslims have the loudest voices when it comes to demanding gender segregation at university events. This primitive and ridiculous belief must not be pandered to in the U.K. today for we live in a liberal society that has rejected such nonsense. If universities are seen to approve such a silly and religious-belief-based way of going about things then incalculable harm can be done to women’s position in the academic world, and in society in general. Individual women will probably also feel threatened, and be made to feel inferior, by such a stupid stance, and universities will be guilty of setting back the cause of women’s rights by years – if not decades or centuries.
I trust that Universities UK will review its recent decision about this issue and will come to the proper decision – the one based on rationality rather than religious belief and on equality rather than discrimination, for I, and others, find it appalling that apartheid of any sort should be allowed to flourish, be actively encouraged, in the U.K. today.
John M. Joyce.
Universities UK’s reply:
Thank you for your email.
Universities UK’s publicationÂ External speakers in higher education institutionsÂ aims to provide guidance to institutions in managing the process for inviting external speakers onto campus, both in terms of upholding principles of free speech, and also complying with the law. It was produced with significant input from a range of organisations and individuals (referenced in the full report) as well as extensive legal advice.
The guidance is not prescriptive. It is intended to provide practical assistance to universities in making decisions about who they choose to invite to speak on campus, steering them through all the different considerations, legal and otherwise, that apply. Universities are independent institutions and will make decisions themselves on a case by case basis.
The guidance includes a hypothetical case study (case study 2) involving an external speaker invited to talk about his orthodox religious faith, who had subsequently requested segregated seating areas for men and women. The case study considers the facts, the relevant law and the questions that the university should ask, and concludes that if neither women nor men were disadvantaged and a non-segregated seating area were also provided, it might in the specific circumstances of the case be appropriate for the university to agree to the request.
The guidance does not promote gender segregation.Â When faced with requests for segregated seating, universities will consider all the circumstances: they will consider questions of disadvantage to men or women, and will inform themselves about the speaker’s views and the context of the event. Many, taking account of all factors, may legitimately refuse the request. It is for example very hard to see any university agreeing to a request for segregation that was not voluntary and did not have the broad support of those attending.Â But with different circumstances, as with the case study, the university may agree to it.
The case study has generated considerable public concern and media coverage, some of which raised questions about our previous legal advice. In the light of that, we sought an opinion from senior counsel, Fenella Morris QC. We have now received herÂ adviceÂ which confirms that the guidance is correct and provides an appropriate foundation for lawful decision-making. The advice is also clear that in adjudicating between conflicting priorities in relation to gender and religion, institutions have to balance a range of competing interests and strike a fair balance between them having regard to all the individual circumstances of each case.
Given the continuing public concern we have also today written to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to request that they consider having the issue clarified by the High Court or provide a clear and public statement about the law and the relevant policy considerations in this area.
Kind regards, Rachel
Rachel Daley, Information Officer, Universities UK
Switchboard tel: +44 (0)20 7419 4111 Fax:Â +44 (0)20 7383 5766
Follow us on TwitterÂ @UniversitiesUK
(MyÂ boldÂ emphasis.)
As you can plainly read, Universities UK misses the point entirely. I have very little doubt that as the law stands today it is probably entirely legal to enforce gender apartheid at any university event whereat the university deems it suitable and right to do so, or allow it to be done, and that Universities UK were correct in drawing that conclusion.
However, my point is, as I hope that you gathered from my email, that segregation by gender is always morally wrong and completely repugnant. No university should even be considering allowing such a thing to take place on its property, or within its sphere of influence, no matter who has requested it and no matter what reasons, religious or otherwise, are offered in support of such an action.
You will have noted, I do not doubt, that Universities UK concerned itself only and exclusively with the legal aspects of the issue, and, after having consulted a Q.C, (Fenella Morris – see her opinionÂ behind this link) they then issued the advice given without so much as consulting anybody, or any organisation, about the moral issue, the freedom issue and the rights of women issue involved in such gender apartheid.
It would have been so easy to consult with interested groups and individuals, but it appears that Universities UK did not do so. It would have been so easy for Universities UK to have included the results of such consultations along with the legal advice that it is lawful to allow or practice gender segregation at university events, but it appears that Universities UK did not do so.
Universities UK has indulged in the very worst form of legalism by considering only the law and paying no attention to morality, natural law, or human rights, and they have compounded that error by signally failing even to intimate that there may be concerns other than the legal one.
However, Universities UK have published also a report entitled ‘Freedom of speech on campus: rights and responsibilities in UK universities’ in which document (see here) they stated:
“Universities are, as a matter of law, required to prevent unlawful discrimination, and to promote equality of opportunity. In particular gender, race, disability, religion and belief, sexual orientation and age are all protected characteristics, which means that staff and students cannot be treated less favourably, directly or indirectly, by the university as an organisation or by its staff or others acting on its behalf.”
So, what Universities UK is actually stating in its most recent pronouncement is that it is, in fact, legal to allow Mohammedans to discriminate against women and enforce gender segregation at university events. In effect, Universities UK are plainly stating that the legal rights of Mohammedans to use their religious beliefs to enforce gender apartheid trump the rights of women and are more important than natural justice, and that this right is enshrined in Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), which, as we British know only too well, is one of the most mischievous and ill-thought-out documents ever to be incorporated into British law as well as being one that the majority of us want to see abolished or significantly reformed.
Article 9 clearly states that everyone has a right to ‘manifest his religion’ and in advising universities that Article 9 must be considered as justifying gender separation Universities UK has opened a can of worms. It has, in effect, told universities that it is alright to allow Mohammedans to impose their religious beliefs on women at any university event that they choose to do so.
Of course, I am certain that Universities UK do not see things in that way, and I am equally certain that they would deny that the effect of their well-meaning advice has been, and will be, to give Mohammedans a massive lever with which they will continue force aside the cherished concepts of gender equality and freedom of movement (that is, in this case, the freedom for women and men to choose with whom and where they wish to sit).
Universities UK will also state, I have no doubt, that it is not in a position, and has no right or mandate, to consider the morality and the natural justice that may be involved. Equally, I could argue that in that statement it would be wrong, for, by its very existence, it has a legal duty of care, and in that it has singularly failed – but, to be fair, in this arena Universities UK cannot discharge its duty of care in an even handed manner due to the contradictory nature of many of the Articles, and the lack of any internal logic, in the mish-mash that is the ECHR.
What the ECHR does is elevate the right to a religious belief to an equal position with all other rights and that is the root cause of Universities UK’s problem. That equality is a nonsense. I have said it before and I will, no doubt, say it again: one has a right to a religious belief, but that belief has no rights; it cannot be used to downgrade, downplay, or abolish the rights of others. One cannot use one’s right to have a religious belief to then enforce the tenets of that belief on others. The ECHR, however, allows courts of justice, universities, employers, indeed any organisation or person, to say that one can. It is, as I said earlier, a thoroughly bad piece of legislation.
Finally, and as I said in my email:
It is never, I repeat never, alright in a free liberal western democracy to segregate audiences for any reason – be that reason, gender, colour of skin, sexual orientation, or some other perceived difference. Pandering to primitive and divisive religious beliefs at higher institutions of learning is abhorrent and runs contrary to all academic standards, and philosophical standards, as well as sending an exceedingly poor message to the public at large about the social and legal value of the respective genders.
I stand by that. Mohammedans who believe otherwise know exactly what they can do with their contrary and devilish belief – they can very firmly, and at speed, place it where the sun don’t shine!