Welcome to the Free Speech Union’s weekly newsletter. This newsletter is a brief round-up of the free speech news of the week sent to our members.
Professor who survived cancellation attempt thanks the Free Speech Union
A few weeks ago, we asked members to sign a Free Speech Union petition urging the President of Chicago University to issue a statement reaffirming his commitment to the Chicago Principles (the gold standard of university free speech policies). This was because an outrage mob were gunning for Dorian Abbott, a professor in the Department of the Geophysical Sciences, who’d committed the sin of criticising positive discrimination. Three days after we started that petition, the University President did exactly what we asked and the mob quickly dispersed. Prof Abbott has written an article about his experience for Quillette in which he thanks us for the support: “Fortunately, at a crucial juncture in the proceedings, the Free Speech Union launched a change.org petition in my support, which was signed by more than 13,000 people. (The list probably includes many readers of this essay. Thank you so much for your support!) My university president, Robert Zimmer, subsequently issued a strong statement defending freedom of expression on campus. As a result, I seem to have survived my cancellation.”
FSU Director of Research Radomir Tylecote writes in Spiked that despite the Home Secretary’s plans to reform hate speech laws, “some of the most extreme demands for censorship now come from quangos the government itself sponsors.” The Law Commission, in particular, wants to expand the number of protected characteristics recognised in law, as well as remove the dwelling exemption that prevents people being prosecuted for things they’ve said in the privacy of their own home. It also seeks to criminalise the sharing of “inflammatory images” – meaning cartoons. This, coupled with the Covert Human Intelligence Sources bill, which would permit children to be used as spies against their parents, is a step towards Stalinism, says Radomir: “There is no greater poison to the human capacity for trust than the knowledge that one’s own child might be a spy.”
Conservative backbench MP Andrew Bridgen makes the case for repealing the UK’s hate speech laws entirely in an interview with Spiked. The core problem, according to Bridgen, is that hate speech laws are “an infringement on free speech”.
An amendment by Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf to his own Hate Crime Bill has been withdrawn after a backlash from within his own party. The amendment, which said that “behaviours and materials are not to be taken as threatening or abusive solely on the basis that it involves or includes discussion or criticism of matters relating to transgender identity”, prompted younger LGBT members of the SNP to threaten to leave the party. Nicola Sturgeon urged them to stay, while Conservative SNP and convener of the justice committee Adam Tomkins said he was “disturbed by the reaction I have seen to what were modest, innocent amendments”. Yousaf will meet with opposition leaders to draft a new amendment that will address free speech concerns “in a way that also doesn’t make any group feel marginalised”.
Principles to fight cancel culture
Writing in the New York Post, former New York Times editor Bari Weiss offers a reminder that America is still a free country and lays out 10 principles that anyone wishing to fight back against cancel culture can implement immediately. The anti-woke list includes “be honest”, “stick to your principles”, “become more self-reliant” and “trust your own eyes and ears”.
Quillette has published a similar piece by Pedro Domingos, Professor Emeritus of computer science and engineering at Washington University, with a slightly more tactical list for those in the process of being cancelled. Based on his own experience being targeted by the mob for pushing back against an “ideological litmus tests to limit what can and cannot get published”, his set of principles includes “don’t back down”, “mock them mercilessly”, and “turn their weapons against them”. It’s a false equivalency, he argues, to claim we sink to the cancellers’ level by employing such methods: “The cancel crowd tries to ban people because of their views. We try to stop bullying – behaviour that is reprehensible regardless of ideology.”
What cannot get published
Educational psychologists Dr Peter D’Lima and Dr Clare McGuiggan have published a blog post on the importance of free speech in “the cognitive, moral and socio-emotional development” of children, after the official publication of the British Psychological Society, The Psychologist, refused to publish it. Their central argument is that “freedom of speech, exposure to diversity of opinion, and the process of scrutiny and challenge associated with this process is… necessary for children and young people to truly think. Freedom of speech is necessary for the freedom of thought.”
The UK’s longest running gay men’s magazine, Boyz lost the chief sponsor of its annual National HIV Testing Week issue, the Terrance Higgins Trust, after promoting a webinar hosted by the LGB Alliance, “a group that believes in biological sex rather than gender-based public policy”. Even though there are “believed to be around 7,500 people in the UK currently living with HIV who are undiagnosed”, the THT, the UK’s leading HIV charity, said “it is unacceptable to promote an organisation that questions trans equality”. (Needless to say, challenging trans orthodoxy is not tantamount to denying trans rights.) The THT pulled its advertising, ensuring the issue “will not see the light of day (even online)”.
The supremacy of free speech
Facebook’s new Oversight Board, set up as an independent body that can review decisions by the social media platform to censor or ban users, has overturned several such decisions in its first set of rulings. Board member Alan Rusbridger, former editor-in-chief at the Guardian, said: “For all board members, you start with the supremacy of free speech. Then you look at each case and say, what’s the cause in this particular case why free speech should be curtailed?”
MyPillow founder Mike Lindell refused to back down after a number of retailers cut ties with the pillow manufacturer over Lindell’s support of President Trump and his public statements about alleged voter fraud in last November’s election. Corporate America lives in fear of the mob, he argued, but companies that capitulate to the demands of these woke Torquemadas “end up losing, because their real customers are very upset… they’re losing out on the sales from the other stores that have stuck with us. They make the money, and they get the customers.”
Helen Pluckrose, founder of Counterweight, gave an interview to Triggernometry’s Konstantin Kisin and Francis Foster in which she explains how her new organisation helps individuals “resist the imposition of the ideology that calls itself ‘Critical Social Justice’ on your day-to-day life”. Counterweight has “a case worker system” which helps people push back against certain forms of ideological intrusion at their place of work or elsewhere in their personal life “in a way that they feel safe to do so, armed with knowledge and principle”. In the same interview, she says the first thing she tells people who contact her is to join the Free Speech Union.
Speaking to LBC’s Iain Dale, Free Speech Champions founder Inaya Folarin Iman articulated the importance of building a network of pro-free speech student activists, saying, “free speech is not inevitable. It’s against all odds and we have to fight for it each day”. Her message was echoed in Spiked in a piece by one of the founding champions, Rob Lownie, who explained that the new organisation existed “to promote healthy discussion and tolerance of different opinions”. Young people interested in becoming free speech champions should visit the website.
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