Last Friday, the University of Sydney Union Board passed a motion overturning the decision of the Clubs and Societies Committee to deny USU affiliation to LifeChoice Sydney and the Ukulele Society. In respect to LifeChoice, the Committee argued that the club was not in line with section 3(a)(i): “the object of the program shall be to enrich the student experience at the university”.
However this allegation was considered insufficient grounds by the Board, and on a vote of 6-5, LifeChoice and the Ukulele Society were affiliated with the USU.
Despite the constitutionality of the Board’s actions, there has been in the last 72 hours an extraordinary response from many members of the USU, the wider student body and the general public, some of whom have been critical of the Board’s decision and cast aspersions on the intentions and function of LifeChoice. Much of this reaction has been irrational, deeply unfair to the members of LifeChoice, and frequently vitriolic.
LifeChoice was established to promote discussion on the issues of abortion and euthanasia in Australian society. As a non-partisan and secular society, LifeChoice consists of USU students from a diverse background brought together by a common idea that human life is special and carries with it certain rights in our society.
LifeChoice recognises that abortion and euthanasia are controversial issues, and provoke many different perspectives and opinions. They are also incredibly relevant, and deserve to be considered fairly and reasonably amidst the cut-and-thrust of intellectual discourse at our mighty University. It is in this unique way that we hope to further enrich our already vibrant student life and ensure that the University of Sydney remains a friendly and non-confrontational environment.
In the past several days, a petition has been circulating to ‘How about I make my own ‘life choices’ (stop the anti-abortion society at USYD)’. Every student has a right to expresstheir views but the argument that LifeChoice should be banned from campus life can only be considered antithetical to the principles of free speech and inclusivity on which the USU was founded.
LifeChoice promotes the discussion of ideas. In doing so our club in no way impinges on the freedom of other students. Indeed, the whole notion of the University is centred on the contest of differing views, and is something which should be encouraged not persecuted. As one Board member pointed out on Friday, ‘a diverse Union is a strong Union’.
This idea of ‘the academy’ – where the ideas that will shape tomorrow are discussed and debated – will become utterly meaningless if we do not uphold the freedoms of speech and association. When we are met with ideas that conflict with our own worldview, we do not censor discussion, but take it as an opportunity to enrich our own student experience.
LifeChoice is committed to student discourse. Ultimately, the right of our members to participate in that discourse, and so express their views and associate with like-minded members, is not contingent on whether their fellow students agree with them or not.
This is a question of freedom of speech. And LifeChoice asks all students, whether they agree with the values of our club or not, to support that freedom and uphold the integrity of our Union and our University.
President, LifeChoice Sydney