Student union reverses position on Sydney Uni faith groups

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Photo: e X p o s e / Shutterstock.com
Photo: e X p o s e / Shutterstock.com

Catholic and Evangelical student societies have prevailed in their battle with the University of Sydney student union and will not be forced to dump faith-based membership requirements on pain of being deregistered.

The board of the University of Sydney Union (USU) and seven religion-related student societies issued a joint statement on Monday saying the board recognised the importance of faith-based declarations to some religious societies.

In the statement, the board said it would seek the religious societies’ full assent while looking to amend registration rules over the course of the week and would also look to establish a Faith Roundtable to improve consultation and governance.

Catholic Society president Francis Tamer described the move as “the best case scenario for us”.

He said that the society had worked closely with other religious bodies – including other Catholic and Christian, Muslim, Coptic Orthodox and Buddhist groups – and thanked them for their solidarity.

Only the Catholic Society and Evangelical Union had faith-based membership requirements, and only for members of their executives.

At the time of speaking with The Catholic Weekly, he said he had not had a chance to post the news to his members on social media because the society was busy running events for its annual Life Week.

The reaction of the members he had spoken to had been very positive.

“The consensus (of our members) is we are all quite relieved that it has been resolved and quite happy with the decision of the board,” Francis said.

“We intend to consult regularly with the board so that something like this doesn’t happen again.

“Hopefully we can (also) maintain good relations with all the religious clubs and possibly collaborate on future events.”

The board of the union made the decision to abandon its contentious rule for societies – originally adopted on anti-discrimination grounds – at an in camera session at its meeting in April.

In February, the USU instructed the Catholic Society and the Evangelical Union that they had until 31 March to remove the offending articles in their respective constitutions or face the prospect of being deregistered.

The union backed down on 21 March after the university intervened, facilitating independent legal advice for the board’s April meeting, after the Evangelical Union went public with its concerns.