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Student Unions should assign someone to have religious literacy training, says think tank

by Cara Bentley

The Theos think tank report on the experiences of people of faith on campuses in the UK made a number of recommendations for society members, universities and student unions on the issue of freedom of speech and religious cohesion.

For students, one of the report authors, Simon Perfect, told Premier Christian Radio's News Hour that Christian Unions should do more interfaith events.

"If we can get students breaking down barriers between different religion and belief groups now...they're going to take that [learning] out into their future employment, if they become leaders of religious communities or political communities they're going to take that learning out with them as well," he said.

"Some faith and belief societies are engaging in good interfaith work, others are not doing so and we feel that there is a lack of this kind of activity going on. In some cases, this is for religious or ideological reasons. So, some societies, such as Christian Unions, are primarily focusing on external evangelism.

"We found that sometimes members of Christian Unions didn't feel it was in the core of their activities to be engaging in interfaith work but for other societies the reasons why they're not doing this interfaith thing is primarily for practical or logistical reasons - they want to do interfaith stuff, but they're simply finding they don't have the time or the resources or organisational support from their Student Union in order to be able to do it."

The recommendations made by the think tank were: "Universities should ensure they provide suitable facilities for all major religions or beliefs on campus, such as prayer rooms, suitable kitchen spaces and access to chaplaincy services. They should regularly engage with students of different religions or beliefs to learn what they require in order to practice their religion or belief freely."

For Student Unions, they recommend they should assign a permanent member of staff to have a religion or belief brief who must receive religious literacy training.

"Their role should include supporting faith and belief societies in achieving their goals and rectifying problems, and encouraging them to undertake interfaith collaborations," the report states.

When asked if the vetting process for external speakers should be more leniant, Simon Perfect responded: "Student Unions will always need to have a vetting process because that's ultimately required by law...but it certainly does seem to be true that some Student Unions are being particularly risk averse and, in our view, are unnecessarily risk averse.

"When it comes to external speaker requests from students - that might mean that external speakers who have got particularly socially conservative views, for example, or have a high profile and express their socially conservative views - some Student Unions will be inclined to not fulfill students' requests for those speakers. Now, those views might not be the mainstream, they might be controversial but as long as they are legal, our view is that they should be heard."

Listen to the full interview here:

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