If you’re not already a member of the FSU, I urge you to become one, like myself, here. The rest of this blog piece consists of their weekly news round-up.
Dear Mike Buchanan,
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.
Unconscious bias victory
After the intervention of the FSU, Somerville College, Oxford reversed a policy requiring students to score 100% on a test following a mandatory unconscious bias training course, which, among other things, would have required them to affirm that they’d found the course beneficial. After a student at Somerville, and a member of the FSU, asked for our help Toby Young wrote to the College’s principal Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, saying “the relationship between conscious and unconscious bias, and the impact of unconscious bias training on a person’s real world behaviour, are subjects of an ongoing academic debate and if the college values academic freedom it should not insist all students take one side in this debate”. Baroness Royall responded by dropping the insistence that all students would have to achieve a perfect score in the course assessment. “This is an area where I should have thought further,” she wrote, “and I thank you for bringing it to my attention.”
You can read Toby’s letter to Lady Royall, as well as her response, and Toby’s follow-up letter here.
Free Speech Union USA
The US FSU, which will be officially launched later this year, has taken action in the case of artist Emma Quintana, whose installation at the University of Tampa, entitled White America: Supremacy, Nationalism and Patriotism, was dismantled and rearranged by a group of offended students. Ms Quintana is professor at Tampa. Toby and the American FSU’s CEO Designate Ben Schwartz wrote to the President of the University, Ronald L. Vaughn, praising Jocelyn Boigenzahn, the director of the university’s art galleries, for standing by the artist, and expressed the hope that the controversy would not affect Professor Quintana’s employment status.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the US FSU – or getting involved – you can email the new organisation here.
Free Speech Champion
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced this week that the Government plans to appoint a ‘Free Speech Champion’ to the board of the Office for Students to ensure free speech and academic freedom are protected on university campuses. This will be one element in a new academic free speech bill that’s likely to be included in the next Queen’s Speech. The bill, which aims to strengthen free speech protections in English universities, comes after a report put out by the think tank Policy Exchange last year that, among other things, called for the creation of the new post. For the first time, student unions will have a legal requirement to uphold free speech and students and academics who are penalised for exercising their lawful right to free speech will have a new legal route to claim compensation.
Matthew Goodwin, Professor of Politics at the University of Kent, who is a founding member of a secretive “group of rebel academics” set up to push back against the growing woke illiberalism in universities, stressed the necessity of the new role. He said: “There is a long list of academics in Britain’s universities who have found themselves marginalised or intimidated by fellow academics, administrators or students.”
Nigel Biggar, FSU Chair and Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford, welcomed the news, saying: “As British society has become more polarised, the civic vocation of universities to train graduate citizens in the virtues and art of handling controversial ideas civilly has never been more important. The government’s plans promise to inject some energy into that culturally vital role.”
The Telegraph interviewed several students who have been persecuted for exercising their free speech on campus, including FSU member Thomas Inns, who was suspended from the Students’ Union at Falmouth University for sending a sarcastic email. He sought the FSU’s help and was ultimately exonerated. He said the ordeal was “emblematic of the desire [at universities across the country] not to see anybody offended. Basically it’s trying to protect students from real life.”
Meanwhile, Toby has some words of wisdom for the new Office for Students appointee in this week’s Spectator: “My advice to whoever is tapped up to be the government’s ‘Free Speech Champion’ is first to cleanse the internet of anything the enemies of free speech can dig up and use against you — so delete all your social media accounts, for a start. And second, tell Downing Street about all the skeletons in your closet before your appointment is announced and get a cast-iron guarantee from Boris that he will stand by you no matter how many people call for your head. Unless you can get that pledge, preferably in writing, don’t do it.”
Free speech for all
Rob Lownie, one of the first Free Speech Champions in the newly launched initiative of the same name, writes that free speech is not just important for those on the right of the political spectrum. He says: “Free speech is, in its purest form, inherently progressive, and never reactionary. It helps us to understand one another, encouraging us to ask people why they think the way they do, rather than dismissing their views on sight.”
Another of the Free Speech Champions, Izzy Posen, co-founder of the Free Speech Society at Bristol University, has resigned as Events Coordinator, after “fundamental disagreements on core values”. The society was founded “to disrupt what felt to us as a dogmatic orthodoxy on campus and to increase viewpoint diversity” but it no longer considers free speech a priority, according to Izzy. He added that the FSU is “the only powerful organisation doing good things for free speech”.
Politically incorrect research
After working for a decade in a gender clinic, psychotherapist James Caspian undertook a research degree at Bath University to explore the phenomenon of “detransitioning”. He asked to include the testimonies of women who, although they hadn’t undergone surgery to detransition, “felt as if they had been drawn to a movement, some of them even used the word ‘cult’.” The University ethics committee refused his request, and revoked its earlier permission for his initial proposal, saying: “engaging in a potentially ‘politically incorrect’ piece of research carries a risk to the University”. He took his case to the High Court, which decided against him, and is now taking it to the European Court of Human Rights. He said: “Too much is at stake for academic freedom and for hundreds, if not thousands, of young people who are saying that they are being harmed and often silenced by a rigid view that has become a kind of transgender ideology and permits no discussion.”
A Freedom of Information request made by Harry Miller, former police officer and founder of Fair Cop, revealed that “none of the 43 police forces in England and Wales could cite any crime that had been prevented” by recording “non-crime hate incidents” against 120,000 people in the past five years. Miller said: “Non-crime hate incident reports do not appear to have any usefulness as a crime prevention tool, but what they do have is a chilling effect on free speech because they make people think twice before saying or posting something on social media in the fear that it could land them with a criminal record.” The responses to the FoI will be submitted as evidence in the forthcoming Court of Appeal case against the College of Policing, schedule for next month.
Covid excuse to suppress free speech
According to Human Rights Watch, Covid-19 has been used as an excuse to suppress free speech in at least 83 countries, none of which registered any free speech-related derogations, which they are required to do under various international human rights treaties. “Failing to register derogations makes it easier for governments to evade international oversight that could curb the abuse of extraordinary powers,” the NGO said. It also found that critics of state Covid policies were arbitrarily arrested in 51 countries, laws criminalising the spread of alleged “misinformation” were passed in 24 countries, and journalists and protesters were physically assaulted by the police or military in at least 18 countries.
Corporate cancel culture
Bill Michael, the UK Chairman of KPMG, has been suspended pending an investigation into statements he made during an online staff meeting. He told workers not to complain or “play the victim card” over working conditions caused by the pandemic and associated restrictions, during which KPMG has not furloughed any of its UK staff. He also called unconscious bias training “complete crap”. Offended staff members demanded he “check his privilege”.
Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill exposes the double standard regarding Holocaust Relativism, following Disney’s sacking of actress Gina Carano from The Mandalorian for tweeting that “hating someone for their political views” today is not unlike Nazi persecution of the Jews in the 1930s. Arnold Schwarzenegger was widely celebrated a few weeks earlier for comparing the Capitol Hill riots to Kristallnacht, O’Neill points out, so it must have been Carano’s “lack of wokeness” that got her cancelled. This is a demonstration by our new cultural elites of their arrogant assumption of control over words, language and memory itself, O’Neill says. “Disney and its backers are essentially saying that their cultural power is such that they now own the historical memory of the Holocaust itself.”
Writing in the Daily Mail, Sue Reid relates the story of 76-year-old Margaret Nelson, whose Twitter following had grown to more than 9000 over the past year, including soft drinks company Innocent. After a tweet in which the former teacher said “Death doesn’t misgender. You die as you were born.” a Twitter troll called Andrew? with the handle @leftist_rage tweeted to Innocent, asking why it followed the account of a “clear transphobe”. Innocent thanked him for the “heads up” and unfollowed her. Then Margaret received a call from the police for an alleged hate crime. The police later dropped the matter, but this is but one of many disturbing episodes that has led to the creation of new organisations including Counterweight and the Free Speech Union. Toby Young is quoted in the article: “The Big Brother that George Orwell warned about in 1984 is a reality. It is not the state watching everything you say, it’s a troll-army of activists.”
Brian Monteith, editor of Think Scotland, a unionist publication, and a former Conservative MSP, writes of having his Facebook adverts repeatedly rejected for violating Facebook’s “vaccine discouragement” rule, despite wanting to advertise articles that didn’t mention vaccines. Facebook has offered no explanation, but Brian’s guess is “that those that don’t like what Think Scotland’s contributors write complain to Facebook about my adverts using the ‘vaccine discouragement’ policy and this automatically triggers an algorithm shutting down my ability to trade and my authors’ ability to be heard. Their free speech has been cancelled.”
Brian is a member of the FSU and it is helping him raise this case with Facebook.
Madeleine Kearns examines Scotland’s “new blasphemy law” in a piece for Law & Liberty. Under the guise of stamping out “hate”, the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill adds nothing to the law that isn’t already there, she argues, except attempting to “control the human heart”. “Since there are already laws that prevent abuse and sentencing to reflect the seriousness of crimes aggravated by bigotry, why is a separate category of ‘hate crime’ even necessary?” Kearns asks. While the justification for the bill is that “preventing ‘hate’ requires preventing certain kinds of speech … what the drafters really believe is that preventing speech will somehow prevent hate. It won’t.”
Sense of humour failure
Cyprus Chief of Police Stelios Papatheodorou acknowledged that the police “should be more careful in the future” after the December raid of a woman’s house over a Twitter account clearly labelled “parody” whose tweets had offended Justice Minister Emily Yiolitis. The police obtained a warrant after Yiolitis complained about the account, allegedly run by Niki Zarou, who now plans to sue the state. The head of the human rights committee of the bar association Achilleas Demetriades said it was worrying that “Yiolitis had reported to police something that does not constitute a criminal offence, but rather free speech”.
Twitter has removed multiple parody accounts over the past few months, issuing temporary suspensions to popular accounts, including Titania McGrath and The Babylon Bee, as well as permanent bans to less high-profile accounts. Two such accounts that have been kicked off Twitter without any explanation are The Grauniad and Sir Lefty Farr-Wright, which had nearly 23,000 and 26,000 followers, respectively. Fortunately, their satirical missions live on in two newly created accounts, which can be followed at @GrauniadMe and @GiveUsAQuid.
Exeter University no-platforms debating society’s entire termcard
Exeter’s students’ union has written to all student societies ordering them to cancel any events involving external speakers. This followed complaints after FSU Advisory Council members Claire Fox and Joanna Williams had participated in a debate at the university, proposing the motion: “This house regrets the rise of the snowflake generation.” Before they spoke, the President of the debating society produced a list of “resources that you could turn to” if you were traumatised by the debate. On 25 January, the Exeter Socialist Students posted a statement online condemning the debating society for hosting Claire and Joanna, accusing them of being “transphobic”, and saying the students who run the society “do not adequately vet their speakers and appear unable to run their society safely”, and, two days later, the students’ union wrote to the debating society and demanded they cancel all future debates until they could put more robust risk assessment protocols in place.
Toby Young has written to Exeter’s Vice-Chancellor asking her to lift this ban as soon as possible. You can read his letter and the Vice-Chancellor’s response here.
The Telegraph has written about the episode here. Toby is quoted as follows: “This shows why the government is right to try and rein in student unions. They should not have a right of veto over which speakers are invited to university debates.”
James R. Flynn
Writing in The Critic, publisher Paul de Quenoy remembers James R. Flynn, political philosopher and member of the FSU’s Advisory Council, who died in December. Paul’s Academica Press published Flynn’s book A Book Too Risky To Publish: Free Speech and Universities after it was cancelled by its original publisher. Flynn believed in “an open and uncensored society in which debate and disagreement flourish in the pursuit of truth. By standing up to his bullies, Professor Flynn helped restore that ideal and has already encouraged others to do so. May he rest in peace.”
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