The University of Sydney Union (USU) has threatened to deregister the Sydney University Evangelical Union (EU) from the Clubs & Societies program over the latter’s requirement that all members must make a declaration of faith in Jesus Christ.
The Board views the requirement as exclusive to participation in the society and a discriminatory religious litmus test for eligibility to join the society.
The EU has until the 31st March to change the constitutional requirement. This ultimatum was received by email on 17th February.
Article 3.2 of the EU’s constitution states that each member must sign a statement that they “desire in joining the EU to declare my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour, my Lord and my God”.
Members of the EU attended the USU Board meeting of Friday March 4 to petition the board to reconsider their position.
President of the EU, George Bishop, gave a three minute speech to the Board. In it, he cited human rights treaty provisions protecting freedom of religion. The EU has received formal legal advice on the matter.
Olivia Ronan, Vice President of the USU told Honi the Board saw the banning of identity requirements as “the best option for maximizing participation in the Clubs and Societies Program”.
“The foundations of the Program and of the USU are accessibility and inclusion, and to limit the candidates for election to Club Executives to those who ascribe to a particular faith is no less exclusionary than requiring candidates to be of a particular sexuality or gender identity.”
Regarding the USU’s alleged treaty obligations, Ronan further suggested that “complaints of that nature could be forwarded to the UN should they wish to pursue them” after noting that the USU is yet to sign an international treaty.
Bishop emphasised to Honi the distinction between society participants and those eligible to be members.
“The requirement is basically that to have the voting rights and be the leader of the Christian society, they need to be able to declare that Jesus is Lord,” he said.
“We are not trying to shut up shop or close borders. We provide subsidies for non-Christians to come to the events.”
The EU has further claimed that the timeline set by the USU on 17 February is procedurally unfair.
While Honi understands that the 17 February correspondence was the first time deregistration was raised, the matter has been in contention for five years and has been through multiple formal C&S processes.
Bishop further expressed dismay that the dispute had become so public. “This is essentially an internal and private issue. We believe that we’ve been acting in good faith throughout the whole discussion. Ultimately, what I care about is that the EU continues to exist and proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ on campus.”
A concern of the EU is the potential for atheist students to appropriate control of the society.
Ronan has suggested to Honi that comprehensive anti-stacking regulations applicable to all societies should suffice if they are needed.