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Segregation by gender has no place in our public realm
It may or may not be lawful, depending on future lawsuits and revised advice from Universities UK, for academic institutions to compel submission to speaker demands for gender apartheid where this is the outcome of "genuinely held religious beliefs". All we can know for sure, at the time of writing, is that those with phoney or inadequately fanatical religious beliefs are unlikely to be granted the privilege of segregation in our universities. Unless they are very good liars.
Even as ridicule and condemnation of UUK advice on guest lecturers reached a climax last week, this eminent body asked Fenella Morris QC to confirm its approval of gender segregation "if not allowing it would prevent the speaker appearing". So, whatever the prime minister's considered reaction of the day, nervous and law-abiding academies may still want to refer to UUK's original advice on the sacred dispersal of bums on seats, alongside its recommendations on health and safety and – hilariously, given the response to its own speakers – "reputational risks".
Naturally, much speculation, not all of it fanciful, has addressed the further privileges that intolerant faiths might soon, with the support of UUK's useful idiots, be extracting from academe. Some speakers, for example, feel equally incapacitated by the prospect of women's faces in a university audience, or "congregation" as a Muslim chaplain, Saleem Chagtai, referred to it last week on the Today programme. Can they, too – lawfully, and with the continued backing of Fenella Morris QC – demand that women cover up, be screened from sight, or evicted altogether, supposing, of course, this is consonant with genuinely held religious beliefs?
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