Free Speech Union: 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.

Help people like FSU member Lisa Keogh

Lisa Keogh is a 29-year-old law student at Abertay University and a member of the Free Speech Union. She is being put through a disciplinary procedure for defining a woman as “someone born with reproductive organs and who can menstruate” in the course of a classroom discussion, and this week the university has escalated its investigation into her. Lisa spoke to Woman’s Hour about the ordeal of facing an official investigation, with the risk of expulsion, while sitting her final exams; she is just days away from finishing her degree. She described to Spiked the feeling of having a target on her back. The case exposes the falsehood of those who claim that campus censorship is a myth, writes Tom Slater in the Spectator.

The enforcement of trans orthodoxy across UK universities, backed up by disciplinary codes, means it’s no longer safe to state what most would consider biological facts without risking serious consequences. Lisa’s case was raised by Joanna Cherry QC MP during the debate on the Queen’s Speech last week, in which she spoke up in support of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.

We’re backing our member in full and hoping the university will conclude that Lisa has no case to answer. But if the university tries to withhold her degree, the case will probably end up in court and we will back Lisa all the way. (See our press release about the case here.) To keep helping people like Lisa we need new members. Membership starts at just £2.49 a month. Take a stand for free speech and join us today if you haven’t already. If you are a member, spread the word: invite a friend or family member to sign-up.

FSU backs trainee teacher over career-threatening referral for supporting the right to show Mohammed cartoons in class

The fallout from Batley Grammar School continues to spread: a trainee teacher at Manchester Metropolitan University faced a serious hearing, threatening his future career, after he asked his course leaders to support the right of teachers to show cartoons of Mohammed. The decision has prompted widespread outrage. He is a member of the FSU and we have been supporting him. The result of the hearing is expected soon.

The teacher at the heart of the Batley affair is still in hiding nearly two months on, with the location of the safe house kept secret even from his relatives. The Mail on Sunday reported that an imam at the centre of the affair may have broken hate crime laws after he called Muslim MPs who defended free speech “coconuts”. Free Speech Champion Daniel James Sharp wrote about the Rushdie affair in Areo, an event which has been a grim prototype for the enforcement of Islamic blasphemy norms in the West ever since.

Stonewall’s silencing of gender critical views exposed

The University of Essex has issued a rare and welcome apology for cancelling talks by two academics because of their gender critical views. An investigation into the events, commissioned by the University, concluded that Stonewall, the LGBT charity which had helped draft the University’s Trans and Non Binary Staff Policy, had undermined the “university’s obligations to uphold freedom of expression”, given an “incorrect summary of the law” and provided “misleading policies”, according to Kristina Murkett writing in UnHerd. In the Spectator Julie Bindel called the report a “game-changer”. The full report and apology can be read here.

Meanwhile, Lady Falkner, the new head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has defended the right of women to question trans ideology.

Is the tide turning in universities?

The new Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill is critical to the fightback against cancel culture and campus censors. We’ve been campaigning for stronger free speech protections in universities, so this Bill is very welcome. The Free Speech Union has dealt with more than 100 university free speech cases since its launch in February 2020. You can read our press release about the Bill here. Several academics, including our Chair, Professor Nigel Biggar, and our Advisory Council member, Professor Eric Kaufmann, wrote to the Times defending the proposed legislation after it was dismissed as unnecessary by Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein.

The University College Union (UCU) has produced a survey designed to discredit the Bill, encouraging respondents to describe cancel culture as “overblown rhetoric” – not exactly an impartial way of gathering views. But the censorious behaviour of university authorities continues to make the case for the Bill even as its critics claim everything’s rosy in the garden.

In the past week alone, Exeter University faced accusations of a Soviet-style culture on campuses, with academic staff told their courses won’t be accredited if they don’t “move away… [from a] white, Eurocentric” curriculum; our Advisory Council member Zoe Strimpel drew attention to the roll out across the higher education sector of mandatory unconscious bias training, leaving many academics “terrified to speak their minds”; and Cambridge has just unveiled a new bias reporting hotline, encouraging students to report students and academic staff for such crimes as raising their eyebrows when a student of colour is speaking, referring to a woman as a “girl” or failing to use a trans person’s preferred gender pronouns. One beleaguered Cambridge academic told the Telegraph: “Heated disagreement on many academic subjects are likely to become impossible. They have effectively laid out the pitchforks, and it is now up to the woke mob to pick them up.”

We continue to support our member Dr Neil Thin, an anthropology lecturer at Edinburgh University. This week the Times reported that no action will be taken against the students who abused him as a “rape apologist”, “crusty old man”, and “scumbag”. In the Herald, Stuart Waiton says freedom of speech is doomed unless people stand up for it.

Meanwhile, our founder Toby Young welcomed the surprise decision by Oriel College, Oxford not to pull down its statue of Cecil Rhodes, calling it a “victory for common sense over the woke Taliban”.

Chaplain deemed to be extremist for telling school students they were free to question LGTB policies

Dr Bernard Randall was referred to the Prevent programme by his school – a CofE independent boarding school – after he gave a sermon in which he defended students’ right to form their own philosophical views about LGBT issues and shouldn’t feel under pressure to conform with fashionable orthodoxy. He ended up losing his job and has now begun a legal battle in the Employment Tribunal. He is a member of the FSU and we are writing to the school to complain about his treatment, as well as to the Education Secretary to complain about the school.

Cancel culture and intolerance

An especially absurd case of cancel culture came our way last week – an art historian was suspended by the Arts Society for an off-the-cuff comment about the aftermath of Harry and Meghan’s Oprah Winfrey interview. “You couldn’t turn the television on without some person of a colourful disposition having a moan about something,” she said – the word “colourful” landing her with a suspension from the approved list of speakers and compulsory “diversity training”. We’re backing her.

Professor Rima Azar is the latest Canadian victim of cancel culture. She has been suspended without pay because she challenged a student who said Canada was afflicted by “systemic racism”. Professor Azar is raising funds to mount a legal defence. You can donate here.

Developments at Pimlico Academy don’t bode well for the future of free speech: the headteacher resigned after his insistence on flying the Union flag and on other “utterly unremarkable” policies triggered a massive backlash, according to the Spectator. There was no sign of tolerance either from Bangor’s new “agender” mayor, one of the surprise victors in this month’s local elections. Peter Franklin has written an optimistic piece for UnHerd arguing that the new wave of Maoist intolerance sweeping the land won’t triumph in the end. Maybe not, but only if good people band together to resist it. That was the view of Janet Daley in her Telegraph column this week.

Prince Harry baffled by free speech

The Duke of Sussex attracted ridicule after he said he found the First Amendment “baffling”. As Toby pointed out in the Mail, free speech doesn’t just protect people at the fringes of society, it protects people like him and Meghan too: “I’m hopeful that if we do more to defend mavericks and dissenters – by introducing the equivalent of the First Amendment in the UK, for instance – we will revive our democratic tradition and learn to appreciate open debate again. In the meantime, Prince Harry would do well to remember that free speech protects everyone, including him, not just the enemies of the woke Left.”

Our director Douglas Murray likewise wrote in the Telegraph that the UK could do with a First Amendment of its own: if we did, perhaps police wouldn’t record “non-crime hate incidents” against people for making perfectly lawful remarks.

Elsewhere in America, a Space Force officer was relieved of his command for comments criticising diversity and inclusion programmes in the military.

Tech and online “safety”

Kenan Malik criticises the Government’s new Online Safety Bill in the Guardian, while Paul Coleman in Spiked says the legislation rests on a “very dangerous” approach. You can read our briefing about the Bill, written by Radomir Tylecote, our Director of Research, the day after it was published, here.

Google is to “help” users by prompting gender neutral language within its Google Docs app, the Times reports. While Twitter temporarily suspended a Spanish politician after he tweeted that a “man cannot get pregnant”.

New Zealand FSU up and running

Our sister organisation in New Zealand has launched successfully and has already taken up the fight for free speech. You can follow its efforts here.

Help defend London’s Polish-language newspaper

A Polish-language newspaper is facing ruin following a libel case and a string of judicial errors. Help defend free speech and journalistic freedom by contributing to its crowd-funder.

Video of FSU’s ‘speakeasy’ with Quentin Letts

For those of you who missed the FSU’s first ‘speakeasy’, in which Toby interviewed the journalist Quentin Letts about his new book Stop Bloody Bossing Me About, you can watch it on video here.

Sharing the Newsletter

We’ve received several requests to make it possible to share these newsletters on social media, so we’ve added the option to post them on a few different platforms, including Twitter and Facebook. Just click on the buttons below.

If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Remember, all of our work depends on our members, we receive no public money: sign-up today or encourage a friend to join and help us turn the tide against the censors.

Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones

Case Officer


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