Oxford College ‘Misled’ Students Over Account of Events Leading to Christian Group Ban

By Owen Evans
Owen Evans
Owen Evans
Owen Evans is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in civil liberties and free speech.
June 22, 2022Updated: June 22, 2022

An investigation has disproved allegations against the Christian group the Wilberforce Academy after a joint campaign by the Free Speech Union and Christian Concern.

Last year, Worcester College was accused of “cancel culture” after it apologised to students for the “distress caused” after it hosted a Christian Concern training camp called the Wilberforce Academy while the college was closed for the summer break.

On June 21, Worcester College—in a joint statement with Christian Concern—admitted that it misled students.

At the time, it was alleged that students complained that the curriculum for the week-long event was “Islamophobic” as the final day included a discussion about “the nature of Islam.” Accusations of “aggressive leafleting” and “unsolicited conversations about conversion therapy” were also raised.

Other subjects in the event included “Life & Health,” “The Art of Freedom,” “Beginning and End of Life Issues,” and “Homosexuality and Transgenderism.”

‘Uncover the Truth’

Subsequently, Worcester College’s Provost David Isaac, the former Chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission of Great Britain and the former Chair of the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall apologised to students for hosting the camp and canceled a second booking after a small number of students complained.

Christian Concern replied to the College on March 21 by saying they would conduct their own investigation to try to “uncover the truth” or otherwise of the allegations by seeking statements from the attendees.

In February, an Independent Inquiry had found no evidence to justify the Oxford College apologising (pdf).

Following the inquiry The Free Speech Union (FSU), which supports self-styled defenders of free expression in England, supported Wilberforce Academy by contacting Isaac (pdf), asking that he retract his apology to students and withdraw the ban he imposed on further bookings by the Academy.

“You do not need reminding that refusing to provide the College’s services because of Christian Concern’s religious beliefs would constitute unlawful discrimination,” FSU General Secretary Toby Young.

“We continue to stand by Christian Concern and will provide whatever legal and financial assistance we deem appropriate should this matter escalate,” added Young.

In the joint statement on Tuesday, Christian Concern and Worcester College wrote that they had met to reaffirm “their mutual commitment to the right to freedom of speech and religious belief and the dignity of all people.”

“After detailed examination of the circumstances of Christian Concern’s conference in September 2021, Worcester College acknowledges that notwithstanding various accounts of events it was misleading to suggest that Conference delegates or representatives of Christian Concern acted improperly in an email to students in September 2021 which was subsequently leaked to the Cherwell Student newspaper,” it added.

Worcester College said that it did “not act with the intention of impugning Christian Concern or its reputation.”

“In a world where differing views are strongly and sincerely held it is important to come together and listen to each other. To that end, Worcester has invited Christian Concern to speak at a debate which will take place as soon as can be arranged. Worcester looks forward to welcoming Christian Concern back to College,” it added.