UPDATE: Sydney Uni Evangelical Union votes to keep faith-based declaration for members
Students of the Sydney University Evangelical Union (SUEU) have voted 71-1 to not remove a clause from their constitution that requires students to sign a faith-based declaration in order to become members.
When members were given the opportunity to speak for or against the motion to remove the clause, more than 10 students raised their hands to speak against it, and not one student offered to speak for it.
“the Executive now has a clear mandate to continue to work about this issue and I’m really glad that the membership has supported the continuance of a faith-based declaration as part of the membership process.”
George Bishop, student president of the SUEU says, “the Executive now has a clear mandate to continue to work about this issue and I’m really glad that the membership has supported the continuance of a faith-based declaration as part of the membership process.”
The decision follows a five-year series of exchanges between the SUEU and the University of Sydney Union (USU), which ramped up in recent weeks and culminated in the USU threatening the SUEU with deregistration from the clubs and societies program if they failed to remove the clause by 31 March. The USU issued the ultimatum on 17 February.
The SUEU met with the board of the University Union on 4 March, and suggested that this ultimatum violated their human rights. When the USU did not respond to that, “we went and gave correspondence to the vice-chancellor and he’s now fully informed of the situation, and we received contact in response to that,” says Bishop.
On Monday 21 March, Bishop says the SUEU received an email from the USU saying, “the process of deregistration of the SUEU had been stalled, while the USU reconsidered its position.”
*Editor’s note: a previous version of this story said the vote was 72-1, but after discovering one of the voters was not officially a member, the count was revised to 71-1.
A five-year tussle between the University of Sydney Union (USU) and the Sydney University Evangelical Union (SUEU) has finally reached an impasse, with the USU now unequivocally stating that the SUEU must remove the requirement for members to sign a faith-based declaration, and threatening them with deregistration from the clubs and societies program if they fail to comply by 31 March.
Eternity understands that the USU issued the ultimatum on 17 February.
In an email to the roughly 600 members and participants of the SUEU, its President, George Bishop, wrote, “the Executive believes that it is necessary, to maintain our identity as a Christian group, to maintain a faith-based declaration as part of the membership process.
“The Executive believes that individuals who wish to join any society need to be able to ascribe to the core beliefs, objects and aims of the society – which for a Christian society necessarily include faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Bishop also called a meeting of all the members of the SUEU, writing, “it is for the membership to decide whether registration in the Clubs & Societies program in the long term, is necessarily more pertinent at this present moment than the maintenance of a faith-based declaration as part of the membership process.”
This decision follows five years of discussions between the USU and the SUEU over the right of the SUEU to include a clause in its constitution requiring students to sign a declaration of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to become members.
The USU has repeatedly stated that membership of all campus clubs and societies should be open to every member of the University Union, without qualification. In practice, this means that non-believers could not only be members of the SUEU but also hold leadership positions on the Executive Committee.
In late November 2015, the Clubs and Societies branch of the USU released updated regulations, including a specific requirement that clubs and societies “may not make ordinary membership or associate membership conditional on the beliefs or characteristics of an applicant, including (but not limited to) a person’s race, gender, sexuality, age, ability, religious beliefs or cultural background.” The same requirement applies to Executive positions within clubs and societies.
Talking to Honi Soit (the weekly magazine of the Students Representative Council at Sydney University), Bishop said, “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.”
In the United States, InterVarsity Fellowship (IVF) has been battling similar requirements for a number of years, with groups derecognised at Vanderbilt Uinversity and a number of other institutions. A 2014 decision to derecognise all IVF chapters at California State University was reversed in 2015.