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.

Lisa, Maya, Marion, Ann: fighting back against the silencing of women

After an investigation lasting two months, FSU member Lisa Keogh has been cleared by Abertay University. She will not be punished for saying that women have vaginas – but it should never have come to this. It shouldn’t have taken two months to dismiss the nonsensical complaints and Lisa should not have been subjected to this ordeal in the final weeks of her law degree. But this is an important victory and we’re delighted with the result. Lisa said: “No woman should face discrimination in the way I have because she believes in sex-based rights. I want to say a special thank you to the Free Speech Union for helping me through this stressful time, in particular Fraser Hudghton, the Case Management Director, who has been on hand at all hours to answer my calls and navigate me through this.” The news was widely reported in the Daily Mail, Times, Metro, Herald, Daily Record, Courier, and Christian Today. Our full response can be found in our press release.

The victory of Maya Forstater in the Employment Appeal Tribunal yesterday is a victory for free speech, albeit quite a small one. The ruling found that, contrary to the judgement of the Employment Tribunal, gender critical beliefs are deserving of respect in a democratic society and, as such, are entitled to protection under Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the judge made it clear that the expression of gender critical views in the workplace would, in some circumstances, still constitute “harassment”, as defined in s.26 of the Equality Act 2010. And even though Maya won her appeal, her case will now have to be heard again in the Employment Tribunal and a win is by no means guaranteed. The Employment Tribunal may conclude that her firm was right not to renew her contract because her expression of gender critical views did constitute harassment of trans and gender non-conforming people, and preventing that was more important than protecting her right to express her belief that transwomen aren’t women. What the judgement means is that henceforth employers will have to balance their obligation to protect trans and gender non-confirming people from harassment against their obligation not to discriminate against employees on the basis of their gender critical beliefs. And an employer may well decide that the former obligation trumps the latter – and if challenged about this decision in the ET, the ET may well side with the employer. So there is still a good deal of work to be done to protect free speech in the workplace – something we’re going to be campaigning for shortly. (You can read our response to the verdict here.) Nevertheless, the judgement does mean that employers won’t be able to persecute gender critical feminists with impunity – and for that we should thank Maya and her army of supporters. The full judgement can be found here. Her solicitor, Peter Daly, says the ruling means “the era of ‘No Debate’ around sex and gender, if it ever existed, is over”.

Meanwhile, in Scotland a feminist campaigner – Marion Millar – has been arrested and charged for supposedly “transphobic” tweets. Worryingly, a fundraiser to support her was removed by GoFundMe on the grounds that it was “prohibited”. But she later raised the funds simply by posting her PayPal details on Twitter. We will be monitoring this case closely and have reached out to Marion to offer our support.

And Marion isn’t the only Scotswoman under fire for her gender critical beliefs. The former rector of Edinburgh University, Ann Henderson, was “subjected to a sustained campaign of abuse and attempts to silence her after she called for a reasoned debate on gender recognition reforms”, the Times reports.

Stonewall has faced a new barrage of criticism this week over its attempts to silence dissent. Organisations continue to quit its diversity scheme, including Channel 4, the Ministry of Justice, UCL and the University of Winchester, while other government departments are keeping the scheme “under review”. Police forces have been threatened with legal action over their affiliation with Stonewall by Harry Miller’s Fair Cop pressure group on the grounds that the link breaches rules on political impartiality. FOI requests have revealed the extent to which Stonewall’s dogma on trans issues has permeated into public institutions – without any democratic oversight. In the Times Libby Purves says Stonewall “is now becoming the bully itself”. Likewise, the Telegraph’s Tim Stanley says the campaign organisation has gone too far and Celia Warden writes about the culture of fear that our institutions, including the NHS, are creating.

Snitching portals

We’ve written to all the Russell Group universities advising them that the reporting portals they’ve set up to enable students and staff to make complaints about “micro-aggressions”, among other things, may render them vulnerable to legal challenge, as reported in the Telegraph. The Mail says that more than 60 UK universities have paid to install the “Report + Support” tool on their websites and the company which developed the reporting system secured £1.35 million in funding from UUK, the group to which all university Vice-Chancellors belong. Meanwhile, Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope has beaten another retreat, withdrawing his University’s ‘Change the Culture’ campaign which was what led to the creation of the Cambridge snitching portal in the first place. Camilla Turner has the full story in the Telegraph. Our Director Douglas Murray says the victory at Cambridge is a template for victory elsewhere.

Not all Vice-Chancellors are woke. We welcome the excellent comments from the Provost of UCL, Dr Michael Spence, who said the idea that having to listen to opposing views make students “unsafe” is nonsense and it’s not the job of universities to make students “comfortable”, but rather to challenge them. As Adam Tomkins puts it in the Herald, “None of us has the right not to be offended by what each other says. Just because someone else’s speech upsets you – just because you find it offensive – does not mean they have no right to say it.”

A study has found, unsurprisingly, that there are significant generational divides when it comes to free speech, with older generations much more enthusiastic about it. To address this, we’re campaigning for the Department for Education to amend its guidance on the teaching of British values in schools so it encompasses the need to teach children about the importance of free speech. That would have been useful to point to in our recent defence of a trainee teacher at Manchester Metropolitan University who was placed under investigation – and threatened with referral to a Fitness to Practice panel – after he said he would be willing to show Mohammed cartoons in class if they had educational value. Gary Oliver has written about that case in the Conservative Woman. “Aided by Toby Young’s Free Speech Union, the student teacher is in the clear – at least for the moment. However, one wonders what sort of reference from MMU will follow him around and whether, when seeking a teaching post, he will find that the educational establishment has already marked his card,” he wrote.

Wisden goes woke

The hounding of cricketer Ollie Robinson for nine year-old tweets has shown once again the need to pushback against the Witch-Finder Generals. That teenagers make off-colour jokes should surprise nobody, but in modern Britain it’s enough to destroy careers. Toby wrote about this for the Mail earlier this week. We’re pleased to see Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, and the Prime Minister defending Robinson and telling the England and Wales Cricket Board to “think again” over the decision to suspend him and place him under investigation – even though Robinson has already apologised. Matthew Syed in the Times writes that cancel culture “is like a virus that people catch, finding hitherto undiscovered wells of pleasure in the bringing down of people for past sins, stretching back into youthful adolescence. The idea of rehabilitation, still less forgiveness, is ruled out of court.”

Further players have been dragged into the storm since the offence archaeologists sifted through Robinson’s old tweets and even Wisden, the cricketing almanac, has joined in, prompting harsh criticism from fans. The sleuths at Wisden “discovered” one post made by a player when he was just 15. FSU director Douglas Murray says in the Sun that this whole affair demonstrates the “stupid, unforgiving and vengeful way in which we now treat people”. You can read Rod Liddle’s caustic take on the “controversy” here.

Meanwhile, the Greens have dropped their Batley and Spen by-election candidate – the rugby league international player Ross Peltier – for posts he made as a teenager. As long as this is considered an acceptable tactic for bringing people down we recommend all our members install Tweet Delete, an app that deletes everything you’ve ever said on Twitter that’s more than a week old. It’s a lot cheaper than hiring a “social media scrubber”.

Andrew Doyle – creator of Titania McGrath and a member of our Advisory Council – made the case against cancel culture for Reason. Former President Obama has again criticised cancel culture and its dangers, but the ACLU, once a great defender of the First Amendment, is split over whose speech it will actually defend. Like so many once great pro-free speech organisations, it’s been captured by the woke left.

Taking the knee

If football players continue to take the knee it’s inevitable that some fans are going to boo – not because they’re racist, but because they object to the intrusion of politics into our national game. If politics is to be kept out of football, then that rule should be applied to all political organisations, equally – the FA shouldn’t make an exception of BLM because it’s fashionable. But if the FA is going to insist on defending players’ right to take the knee, then fans should be permitted to react as they see fit, whether by applauding or booing. It cannot be free speech for the players but not the fans. That’s our view on the ongoing controversy, expressed in a letter to the FA, and reported in the Mail. Scott Benton MP says it’s time for players to stop taking the knee, and that the gesture is not an uncontroversial gesture of support for the moral cause of anti-racism but a statement of support for the Black Lives Matter organisation and its views. Writing in ConservativeHome, Paul Goodman says “the nation’s best-attended sport faces the possibility, to put it no more strongly, of crowds balkanising before football matches on political lines, if not quite ethnic ones”. This is the critical point: when our national team competes in the Euros it’s an opportunity for people to put their differences aside and come together, which is why politics should be kept out of football. The England players should follow the example of Scotland’s players who have decided to stand together and link arms to express their support for the cause of anti-racism. If the England players do that at the first match against Croatia on Sunday instead of taking the knee, not a single fan will boo.

Librarian suspended for criticising China’s human rights record

We are supporting Maureen O’Bern, the librarian suspended and placed under investigation by Wigan Council for criticising the Council’s decision to enter into a contract with a Chinese state company, given China’s persecution of Muslims. We have written to the Council on her behalf and will offer her whatever support she needs to ensure she is reinstated.

Covid censorship

Free speech isn’t the only thing harmed by censorship. Writing in the Sunday Times, Jamie Metzl argues that stifling scientific and political debate will make another pandemic more likely. In the Telegraph, the indefatigable Douglas Murray criticises the media for failing to report on anti-lockdown protests, and social media companies who arrogantly decided they “knew” where the virus originated: something which is now the subject of intense debate. Brian Monteith challenges Ofcom’s stifling of debate about Covid-19 – all the more troubling as the Online Safety Bill is set to give the broadcast regulator huge new powers. As long-standing members will know, we tried and failed to challenge Ofcom’s censorious coronavirus guidance in the High Court, but at last people are beginning to wake up to the role Ofcom has played in inhibiting debate about the government’s handling of the pandemic. We would encourage all our members to write to their MPs about it. Instructions on how to do that can be found here.

Arts and advertising

The Advertising Standards Authority is imposing a woke worldview on the public, writes Len Shackleton in Spiked. No-one will touch Morrissey, writes James Hall in the Telegraph, while comedian Nick Dixon, who is on our Advisory Council and was on the roster for one of our FSU comedy nights, has said he was overlooked for a gig because he’s a white male.

GB News

“The original meaning of woke was somebody who was aware of social justice issues and who can complain about that?” said Andrew Neil, ahead of the launch of GB News. But the insidious spread of cancel culture now “stands against everything we have stood for since the enlightenment onwards and that is why it is serious”. Neil will have a Woke Watch segment on his new TV show and he told the Evening Standard that “there are so many delicious issues around cancel culture that it is hard to decide what to pick”. Sadly true. We’re looking forward to the debut of GB News this weekend.

Debbie Hicks: handcuffed, arrested and charged after filming inside a hospital and posting the film on Facebook

Debbie Hicks, the anti-lockdown campaigner who was arrested after she filmed what appeared to be an empty hospital ward in December last year – and posted the film on Facebook – has been charged with a Public Order Offence. She is now raising funds for her defence. Whether you agree with Debbie’s views or not, this is an important free speech case – her legal team will be running an Article 10 defence – and she deserves our support.

Sharing the Newsletter

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Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones

Case Officer

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