Archbishop's anger over campus ban on Christians

London, England - The Archbishop of Canterbury has attacked universities for suppressing Christian unions on campuses over their stance on homosexuality.

Dr Rowan Williams believes banning these religious groups threatens 'the integrity of the whole educational process'.

He accused student unions of having a 'fear of open argument'.

The comments follow protests from Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops over the exclusion of Christian unions from some campuses.

Student guilds and associations at Exeter, Birmingham and Edinburgh universities have reportedly voted to suspend these groups from member-ship or use of premises. This is on the grounds that their constitutions or meetings are exclusionary and discriminate against non-Christians and particularly gay people.

Other university unions, including Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and some London medical schools, are said to have taken similar action.

Dr Williams said universities should be places where students learn from an open exchange of their views - rather than somewhere they can only follow prescribed beliefs.

Writing in the Times Higher Education Supplement, he said: 'The danger in issuing sanctions against a body whose views you disapprove of is that it looks like a fear of open argument.'

Dr Williams insisted that a good higher education institution is one in which 'students learn that their questions are not everyone's questions, and their answers are not everyone's answers'.

He wrote: 'Simply in the fact of being alongside people who are following other academic disciplines, you learn that different people want to know different sorts of things.

'It would be very bad for such a climate if the idea were allowed to gain ground that a student union could be an arbiter of publicly acceptable belief.'

Dr Williams said that quite often the views of traditional Christians on gay sex were seen as being 'on a par' with an expression of hate.

This made it impossible for Christians and Muslims to state their views without being accused of something 'akin to holocaust denial'.

In his article, Dr Williams wrote that any kind of behaviour freely opted for by a responsible adult was likely to be challenged and sexual activity was no different.

To challenge behaviour may be 'deeply unwelcome and offensive' in a personal sense but was not a matter for legislative action.

His comments come amid growing concern over attacks on Christianity in Britain.

Last week, British Airways was forced into a rethink over its ban on employees wearing a Christian cross.

Churches have also spoken out against the Government's Sexual Orientation Regulations, which will come into force in April.

The laws are meant to prevent discrimination against gays. But the Church of England has pointed out that priests could be sued for refusing to bless same-sex civil partnerships.

And the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, recently attacked 'illiberal atheists' who he said were eroding Christianity in public life.

He said: 'Christianity is being systematically eroded from public view, more often than not in the fear of offending those who would not be offended in the least or because of the mistaken belief that Christianity has no role to play in the public arena.'