Muslim students have backed the Catholic and Evangelical student societies at the University of Sydney as they continue to rebuff attempts to force them to remove – in the name of inclusiveness – requirements that their executives be Catholic and Evangelical, respectively.
A spokesman for the Sydney University Muslim Students Association described the situation as ridiculous.
Sydney University Catholic Society president Francis Tamer had voiced the Catholic society’s concern when the board of the University of Sydney Union (USU) met on 31 March, urging them to rethink their current position which would see the group deregistered.
The board considered the matter in camera before promising to seek legal advice into the issues raised, leaving aside the question of whether further deregistration attempts would be made.
The student union called on the Catholic body to amend its constitution last year, after the society submitted unrelated amendments following its annual general meeting.
The society has had the requirement – that its executive members profess themselves as Catholic – since its inception in 1928.
Francis, an Information Technology student, said he hoped the issue would be resolved, once and for all, in the next few weeks as they sought to have discussion with the union.
“USU have shown some good faith in that they are willing to talk now which we are pretty grateful for,” he said. “I mean, no one would think it would come to this, but it has.”
USU attempts to enforce ‘inclusiveness’ ignored the outlook and activities of the group, he said, pointing to the Catholic body’s free lunch and Theology Thursday events – open to anyone on campus to attend – and to a membership which includes Protestant and Jewish members.
“It confuses me. The main argument is to maximise inclusiveness and when you say that to a religious society you fail to understand what a religious society is.
“Our whole purpose – the only reason why I am here today and why we do what we do – is so I can spread the Catholic faith to others; so I can include everyone in what I am doing.”
In February the USU instructed both Christian groups that they had until 31 March to remove the articles at variance with their newly-adopted regulations or they would face the prospect of deregistration.
The union backed down on 21 March after the university intervened, facilitating independent legal advice after the Evangelical Union went public with their concerns.
Sydney University Muslim Students Association president Shahad Nomani told the Weekend Australian that his society supported the right of groups to define their executive membership, in spite of not having such a requirement itself.
“We have been toeing the line, saying you don’t have to be Muslim to join our executive, but it’s actually ridiculous,” he said. “All members of our executive are Muslim but we are not allowed to say they must be Muslim.”
The Catholic Weekly understands that several other faith-based student societies – including the Coptic Orthodox – also support the Catholic society and the EU.
Francis said the constitutional requirement that the executive of the Catholic student society be Catholic was a basic requirement for its coherence and authenticity.
“A lot of people are curious and we invite them to our society, but when it comes to the executive, we want the executive to be not just baptised Catholics, but ‘Catholic Catholics’ who agree with the teachings of the magisterium of the Catholic Church so that anyone who joins is experiencing the most authentic form of Catholicism.”
USU president Alisha Aitken-Radburn told the Weekend Australian that the issue had “turned into an argument over whether we are discriminating against Catholics or whether we are anti-Christian, which simply isn’t true”.
“We value religious clubs, but we don’t understand why they need to force their members to say this or sign that,” she said. “We don’t mind if it’s voluntary, but we don’t want clubs to force members to have to do anything to join.”