Free Speech Union: Weekly News Round-Up

Dear Mike Buchanan,

Welcome to the Free Speech Union’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. Like all of our work this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign-up today or encourage a friend to join and help us turn the tide against cancel culture.

Keir Starmer: It “shouldn’t be said” that only women have a cervix

Questioned about Labour MP Rosie Duffield’s view that only women have a cervix, Sir Keir Starmer said it is “something that shouldn’t be said. It is not right.” In response, Health Secretary Sajid Javid accused the Labour leader of being in “total denial of scientific fact”. Laura Dodsworth says in the Critic that “Labour needs politicians with the balls – or ovaries – to speak the truth”. Brendan O’Neill writes in Spiked: “Punishing expressions of biological fact is as ridiculous and tyrannical as it would be to punish people who say the Earth is spherical.” The row continued throughout the Labour conference. Matthew d’Ancona blamed the Twittersphere’s hold on political discourse for the inability of Labour politicians to deal with the issue of whether this was “transphobia”. David Lammy MP said critics of gender self-identification were “dinosaurs” who wanted to “hoard rights”, prompting Melanie McDonagh to write in the Telegraph that “women are frightened of saying what they actually think and can’t articulate their unremarkable, mainstream views without being abused”. The Conservative Party was criticised by activists just for agreeing to host a stand for gender critical group LGB Alliance at its forthcoming conference.

Meanwhile, delegates at the Labour conference were told that too many white men were putting their hands up to speak. Writing in Spiked, Nick Tyrone said the incident showed how toxic identity politics is to Labour. London mayor Sadiq Khan told delegates that he needs constant 24-hour security provided by a team of 15 police officers and that his staff had been offered counselling after dealing with “vitriol” directed at him.

The word woman erased as Lancet and ACLU opt for “bodies with vaginas” and “[people]”

Medical journal the Lancet has been pilloried for referring to women as “bodies with vaginas”. Debbie Hayton compares the modern debate over sex and gender to the heresies of early Christianity. Mary Harrington writes in UnHerd that women are being erased, and a pushback against trans ideology is becoming more difficult as it spreads across the Establishment. Helen Joyce told the New Statesman that gender critical feminists should not be vilified and that her generation of women “are in a bigger fight than the suffragettes”. Her book, Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, is being hidden in some bookshops, writes Graham Linehan. Apparently, staff are anxious that the public might be upset by books that challenge the current trans orthodoxy.

The American Civil Liberties Union has apologised after publishing a quote from the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the word “woman” scrubbed out and replaced with “people”. The ACLU published the quote as: “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a [person’s] life, to [their] well-being and dignity… When the Government controls that decision for [people], [they are] being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for [their] own choices.” After a backlash, the campaign group’s executive director said: “My colleagues do a fantastic job of trying to understand a reality that people who seek abortions are not only women. That reality exists.” He also claimed that Ginsburg would have wanted her words edited: “In today’s America language sometimes needs to be rethought.”

A feminist group at Bristol University plans to sue its student union, after it was fined for denying a transgender individual entry to a women-only event. In response, union officials have ordered the society’s president to resign and barred her from holding any other leadership positions.

Kent students made to say wearing second-hand clothes is “white privilege” in compulsory “Expect Respect” module

Students at Kent University have been compelled to complete a four-hour “Expect Respect” module which makes them tick 13 options which are supposed examples of “white privilege”. These include the ability to have “neutral or pleasant” neighbours and, bizarrely, wearing second-hand clothes. Staff at Kent have been told to consider adding trigger warnings to exam papers and carry out “pronoun checks” when meeting new students. Frank Furedi, who is a professor at Kent, said the course amounted to “thought policing”. Mark Piggott in the Times agrees: “Kent is just the latest university apparently more concerned about telling students what to think about racism than teaching them other stuff, like, perhaps, medicine, law or computer science. We may not have quite matched the peak woke extremes of our US counterparts – where correctly answering a maths question is construed as ‘racist’ – but we aren’t far behind.” Kent Professor Ellie Lee told Julia Hartley-Brewer of our Media Advisory Council: “It’s wrong for a university to project on to students one way of thinking.”

Cambridge academics have welcomed the early departure of outgoing Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Toope, whose tenure had been mired in free speech controversies. Sir Partha Dasgupta, a fellow of St John’s College, said the crises afflicting Cambridge had been of the institution’s own making, and described cancel culture as an attempt “by a vocal minority of students and faculty – all hugely privileged in comparison to the average citizen – anxious to close freedom of expression that the average citizen has always exercised in her day-to-day life.” Jordan Peterson has announced that he will visit Cambridge in November at the invitation of Dr James Orr, a member of our Advisory Council. Dr Arif Ahmed, also a member, has written in the Telegraph that the invitation will be a litmus test of the university’s commitment to free speech and will decided “whether Cambridge is on the side of the Enlightenment or the mob”. Peterson said that Toope had turned Cambridge into a “preposterous place”.

The University of the West of Scotland has adopted guidance on “microaggressions”, which warns staff and students not to ask questions like “Do people eat insects in your country?” Glasgow University has renamed the Gregory Building, on the grounds that its namesake, Professor John Walter Gregory, was racist.

Senior Conservatives have called on the Government to set up a register tracking Chinese influence on British universities.

Books, theatre and Star Wars

Carry On veteran Jim Davidson has criticised theatre proprietors for imposing their own values on the public and blocking popular, non-PC comedians from performing.

Books clubs have been invaded by cancel culture, writes Helen Kirwan-Taylor in the Telegraph.

Neil Davenport has written for Spiked about the public sector “woke gravy train”, and the vast sums of taxpayers’ money being spent on equality, diversity and inclusion.

Star Wars has been deemed to have a “problematic cultural legacy” with the saga’s Jedi Knights blamed for “connecting justice initiatives to corporate capital”.

YouTube to block Covid misinformation

YouTube has announced a ban on vaccine misinformation as part of a crackdown on all “harmful content”.

New research papers find “authoritarian” personality traits on left and right, and debunk “trigger warnings”

A major study has identified authoritarian personality traits on the left. Researchers found a shared trait among respondents who agreed with statements like “I should have the right not to be exposed to offensive views” and “Getting rid of inequality is more important than protecting the so-called ‘right’ to free speech”.

Trigger warnings can cause greater distress than the material they warn about, according to a new study by Harvard law professor Jeannie Suk Gersen.

Other free speech news

Scottish charities have complained of “gagging orders”, whereby they can only receive funding from the Scottish Government if they agree not to criticise the SNP.

The right-of-centre Koch network has criticised moves to ban critical race theory in America. Evan Feinberg, executive director of the Stand Together Foundation, said: “Using government to ban ideas, even those we disagree with, is also counter to core American principles – the principles that help drive social progress.”

The Atlantic has run a piece on Counterweight, a partner organisation of the FSU which offers help to people who run afoul of social justice ideology in the workplace.

Park MacDougald has written in UnHerd on the rise of cancel culture and sees it as an attempt to “erect taboos and restrictions and impose a new moral order”.

FSU at Battle of Ideas Festival

The FSU will be out in force at this year’s Battle of Ideas Festival at Church House in Westminster on the weekend of the 9th and 10th of October. We’re hosting a session, chaired by our founder Toby Young, called “The FSU Files: How to Fight ‘Cancel Culture’ and Win” in which we’ll hear from individuals who’ve experienced first-hand what it’s like to be cancelled. But these particular individuals also have something else in common: with our help, they’ve all fought back. We will hear from them about the most effective way to survive an online assassination attempt, as well as more general advice on how to persuade people that free speech is a cause worth defending.

Across the weekend there are numerous other sessions on free speech issues that should be of interest to FSU members, including “Hate, Heresy and the Fight for Free Speech”, “From GB News to Ben & Jerry’s: Boycotts or Censorship?”, “Publish and Be Damned?”, “The History Wars”, “The Social Justice March through the Institutions”, “Has Coronavirus Changed Us?” and “Can Culture Survive the Culture Wars?”

Most of our staff will be there encouraging others to join the FSU, so come and find us at our stall and say hello. You can buy tickets here. Members were sent a discount code in the last monthly newsletter.

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Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones


Case Officer

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