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Students meet Jeremy Hunt

Godalming College initiative for free speech is heard by Jeremy Hunt

Godalming College students Burhan Waheed and George Chantry met local MP the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt on March 4 to tell him about the huge success and popularity of Secular Society at Godalming College. Students enjoy completely free speech in which they challenge each other’s views on a variety of controversial subjects – Extremism, Charlie Hebdo, the migrant crisis, Brexit or In and many more. The students represent a diverse range of religious and political viewpoints. The only rule of this society is that no one is to be offended by other’s views and opinions. Meetings are lively and contentious but always good-humoured.

George explains, ‘The society is founded on the belief that only through the frank exchange of opinion and active challenging of prejudice can people of different faiths, ideologies and cultures come to understand one another. The amicable exchange of opinion in the group energises all involved and encourages students to respect and empathise with one another’s differences.’

Burhan adds ‘Personally as a British Muslim I have seen how my peers are shy and sometimes even frightened to express their world views and opinions in fear of being ostracised and labelled. An open society helps build bridges between cultures, religions and ideologies and develops mutual learning.

Burhan and George, who lead the Secular Society at Godalming College, suggested to Jeremy Hunt that similar societies should be encouraged and set up in every sixth form nationally as an essential part of the ‘Prevent’ strategy. This would help in breaking down barriers and in actively encouraging pupils to challenge and combat each other’s opinions in a safe and egalitarian space. Jeremy Hunt promised to raise it at government level by directly informing Theresa May herself of this innovative, student initiated proposal.

In a letter following the meeting, Jeremy Hunt assured the students that he had already contacted Theresa May about the Godalming College model and added ‘I was impressed and inspired by the students’ initiative to set up and make a great success of this society, which has attracted such a diverse range of students. I am delighted to hear that it is proving very popular under Burhan’s and George’s leadership and that the range of topics discussed have been controversial, diverse and thought provoking.’