Free Speech Union: weekly newsletter

Dear Mike Buchanan,

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. As with all 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 turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons at the bottom of this email (although not if you’re reading this on a desktop). If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

FSU writes to Oxford University over “free speech stifling” trans inclusion policy!

The FSU has written to the Master of Regent’s Park College asking him to withdraw the College’s ‘Trans Inclusion Statement’ (the Statement), which is based on a misunderstanding of the Equality Act 2010 (Times). You can read our letter here.

Regent’s Park College released its 1,200-word statement online in June, which all students and employees of the College are required to comply with. The Statement stipulates that any “unlawful discriminatory behaviour, including transphobic harassment or bullying by individuals or groups, will be dealt with under the College’s Policy on Harassment and Bullying and within the relevant legislation, the Equality Act 2010”.

Examples of “harassment” supposedly prohibited by the Equality Act include “making jokes about trans people or their trans status” and “consistently using incorrect titles or pronouns or names to refer to a trans person (‘deadnaming’)”.

But as we point out in our letter, the Equality Act imposes a duty on employers to protect their employees from harassment by other employees, not third parties — and for the purposes of the Equality Act, students are third parties. Consequently, the Equality Act doesn’t prohibit students from making jokes about trans people or using their non-preferred pronouns.

The Statement is also in direct conflict with the College’s Freedom of Speech Policy and the University of Oxford’s Free Speech Statement, which states: “Recognising the vital importance of free expression for the life of the mind, a university may make rules concerning the conduct of debate but should never prevent speech that is lawful. Inevitably, this will mean that members of the University/College are confronted with views that some find unsettling, extreme or offensive.”

Although the Statement refers to the need to “uphold lawful freedom of expression” and protect “lawfully expressed gender-critical beliefs” – which we welcome – any insistence that students comply with the College’s “commitment to trans inclusion” in all the ways set out in the Statement – that they affirm everything a trans person believes about their gender, for instance – would be a breach of the College’s legal duty to uphold free speech and this duty is not diluted by the Equality Act, as explained above.

As such, this Statement risks stifling free speech and may well encourage students to make complaints of harassment to silence those who express perfectly lawful beliefs that they disagree with.

Trans staff and students should, of course, be free from discrimination and harassment. But many people, not just gender critical feminists, reject the idea that sex is a social construct, and, according to the courts, the belief that sex is binary and immutable is a lawful and reasonable point-of-view, deserving of protection under the Equality Act, so we think the prohibitions set out in the Statement wouldn’t apply to the College’s employees either. They should not be compelled to make statements or endorse ideology that they do not believe.

If a member of the College is penalised in any way for refusing to comply with any of the legally dubious prohibitions in the Statement, we will offer them our support, up to and including legal support.

British academic has gender critical book dropped by academic publisher

A British academic has said that the “radioactive” issue of transgender identity issue is threatening to stifle debate after Oxford University Press (OUP) dropped his book on the subject.

Having come up with the premise of a book to sort out the fundamental questions around sex and gender “once and for all”, Alex Byrne, a philosophy professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, signed a contract with OUP, the largest university press in the world. Work began on Trouble with Gender: Sex Facts, Gender Fictions in 2021, with one OUP editor telling him that the book promised to be an “important one”.

However, after he submitted a manuscript – replete with 16,000 words of endnotes and substantial bibliography – the academic publisher said it did not address the subject in “a sufficiently serious or respectful way”.

Prof Byrne, who has since found another publisher, believes OUP declined to print his book because it contained a critical analysis of gender identity.

“There is clearly a faction in OUP somewhere which disapproves greatly of publishing books by people who are on the gender critical side,” Prof Byrne said, adding: “I wouldn’t even say I’m gender-critical, but… I’m not a full-on transgender activist. I have some sympathy with Dr Kathleen Stock: that is enough to mark me.”

Last year, when a manuscript by the political philosopher Dr Holly Lawford-Smith incurred the wrath of trans activists, the OUP told her that it wouldn’t be going ahead with publication. Signatories of a petition against Smith included those who claimed to be “members of the OUP USA Guild”. Thankfully, however, the FSU was able to intervene, and with our help Holly resolved the matter and OUP published her book.

Is there a left way back from woke? Online tickets still available!

In-person tickets have now sold out for our next event, ‘Is there a left way back from woke?’, with Professor Umut Özkirimli on Wednesday 13th September in London. But if you’d like to attend virtually, you still can – watching online is free for FSU members. The link to register for the Zoom feed is here.

In his provocative new book, Cancelled: The Left Way Back from Woke, Professor Özkirimli describes how the Left has been sucked into a spiral of toxic hatred and outrage-mongering, retreating from the democratic ideals of freedom, tolerance and pluralism that it purports to care about.

Professor Özkirimli will be joined in conversation by two eminent public intellectuals. Professor Alice Sullivan has been instrumental in providing evidence that clarifies the need to preserve sex-based social categories in data-collection and policy-making, while Dr Ashley Frawley is one of the most interesting contemporary critics of identity politics.

FSU’s Chief Legal Counsel gives evidence to Public Bill Committee

On Tuesday, the FSU’s Chief Legal Counsel Dr Bryn Harris gave evidence in Parliament about the Economic Activities of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill. (You can watch footage of the meeting here.) The aim of the Bill is to prevent public authorities, such as councils and universities, from imposing their own boycotts on foreign countries on political or moral grounds. The Bill mainly, though not exclusively, targets the anti-Israeli BDS movement.

The FSU accepts that the powers of public bodies must and should be limited by law – there is no public interest in local authorities or universities using public funds to pursue their own foreign policy. The Bill goes too far, however, in restricting what public decision-makers can say about divestment. It prevents them from saying that they intend to impose a boycott in breach of the Bill and, most problematically, they would impose a boycott were the Bill not law. We believe this is unnecessary – existing and less intrusive laws restrain public bodies from carrying out proposed unlawful acts, and the law simply has no business prohibiting mere hypothetical statements.

We look forward to scrutinising this Bill as it passes through Parliament.

Latest episode of the FSU’s weekly podcast is out now!

On this week’s episode, hosts Tom and Ben celebrate another significant victory for the FSU! Carl Borg-Neal, 57, was unfairly dismissed and subject to disability discrimination when Lloyds Bank sacked him for using a racial slur during a workplace-based diversity training session. He came to the FSU for help and, following the first-class support of Doyle Clayton in the Employment Tribunal, Carl is now likely to recover a significant sum for damages. Not for the first time, at the heart of the incident was a supposed ‘safe space’ that turned out to be anything but.

Tom and Ben also discuss a very worrying case in Finland. Päivi Räsänen, a former politician, is on trial for hate speech after criticising her city’s Pride festival, as well as writing a pamphlet 20 years ago setting out her orthodox Christian views about gay marriage. This follows a 2019 police decision that she had committed no crime and a 2022 acquittal by judges in her first trial. Tom and Ben initially consider the implications of Päivi’s case for free speech across Europe, before moving on to discuss hate speech more generally, wondering how the concept has come to be used as an excuse for censorship. What is the line between hate speech, thought crime and even, in an Irish context, pre-crime?

The episode is available to download for free by clicking here.

Legal Crowdfunders — join the fight!

If you can, then please pledge your support to our two live crowdfunders, both of which need one final push.

Former law-lecturer Dr Almut Gadow is bringing a legal case against the Open University, having been fired after questioning requirements to embed gender identity theory within the institution’s law curriculum. Almut’s crowdfunder is currently just £1,500 short of its stretch target of £70,000. This first tranche of money will cover the cost of the preliminary hearing, disclosure of documents, and preparation of a trial bundle. If you can, please donate by clicking here.

Bestselling children’s author Gillian Philip continues to fight for a woman’s right to state biological facts without fear of losing her job. Her crowdfunder is now just £3,500 short of the money she needs for her imminent appeal hearing on 20th September. You can find out more about the case and donate to her cause here. (Gillian was also a recent guest on our weekly podcast, That’s Debatable! — you can listen here).

Non-crime hate incident record for elderly photography enthusiast

Suella Braverman has voiced concern at the case of a pensioner quizzed by the police on suspicion of a hate crime. Her crime? She stopped while out on a walk to take a photo of a sticker on a Pride poster that carried a ‘gender critical’ message (GB News, Mail, Telegraph). You read that right: she didn’t put the sticker on the poster, she just took a picture of it.

The Home Secretary highlighted the episode as an example of police “straying into politically contentious matters”.

The woman’s ordeal began while out walking around Hebden Bridge earlier this year. Having noticed a small sticker, which read “Keep Males Out Of Women-Only Spaces”, sitting on top of a large trans pride poster outside Happy Valley Pride, a Hebden Bridge pride organization, she took a photo of it before continuing on her way. She did not subsequently share the image on social media – not that that would have made her guilty of a hate crime either.

Four weeks later, officers from West Yorkshire Police Force swooped on her home while she was caring for her seriously ill female partner in order to question her about the photo. She had been identified from CCTV footage, they said, before explaining that they were investigating a complaint made on behalf of Happy Valley Pride because of “the sensitivity… for members of the LGBT community.”

The officers proceeded to question the 73-year-old thought criminal over her recreational camera use for the next 30 minutes, apparently in an attempt to determine if she’d been the individual responsible for placing the sticker on the trans pride poster.

After the interrogation, the police advised the septuagenarian that in taking a photograph of an inanimate object on a public pavement outside a building, “no crime had taken place”. Well done detectives!

However, thanks to a Data Access Request the woman later submitted, she learnt that the investigation had in fact been catalogued as a non-crime hate incident (or NCHI) by West Yorkshire Police (an NCHI is any non-crime incident “which is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by hostility or prejudice”).

The police log entry released to the woman – who does not wish to be named due to fear of reprisals from trans activists – also records that: “Words of advice were given regards the harassment and alarm that this sticker could potentially cause the community.” Or, as the woman herself described it to Reduxx, the officers “gave a sermon”.

“I think they wanted to correct my thinking,” she said. “They are getting involved in a very divided and toxic debate, but it’s not their role to arbitrate political disagreements. I felt as if they were trying to gag a dissenting voice by harassing me in my own home.”

Posting on the X social media site, the Home Secretary Suella Braverman said: “This is exactly what I had in mind when writing to police chiefs and commissioning the @HMICFRS [His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services] review over forces straying into politically contentious matters.”

Last month, the FSU wrote to the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, John Robins, outlining our concerns about the arrest by seven officers of a 16 year-old autistic girl on suspicion of committing a ‘hate crime’ for telling a female officer: “You look like my lesbian nana.” We continue to seek assurance from West Yorkshire Police that an NCHI wasn’t recorded against her name.

In our letter, we called for Mr Robins’s officers to undergo urgently needed training on Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998 to help them better understand the importance of free speech and check this growing tendency within the force – his force in particular, it would seem – toward pursuing frivolous cases against anyone who’s had a little too much to think and ends up expressing perfectly lawful but dissenting views.

West Yorkshire Police Force has the second-highest crime rate in the UK, with more than 90% of cases going unsolved in the area. Last year, 80% of all burglaries reported to the Force were closed without a suspect being identified. Of the 14,272 total burglaries reported to the force, just 6% (856) resulted in a suspect being charged or summonsed.

Irish singer Róisín Murphy cancelled, apologises, continues to be cancelled

The Irish singer Róisín Murphy has been pressured into apologising to a trans-activist mob after being bombarded with abuse for expressing her opinion, on a private Facebook account, that puberty blockers are “f***ed, absolutely desolate” and should not be used on “little mixed-up kids” who are “vulnerable” and “need to be protected” (Critic, Spectator, Spiked).

As the FSU often tells its members who get into difficulty, apologising in the hope that a show of contrition might make the mob disperse is rarely a good idea. In fact, it tends to have the opposite effect, whetting its appetite for more hardcore pitchfork action.

So it has proved in this case. Since issuing her apology, Ms Murphy has had several gigs cancelled, while the record label behind her long-awaited upcoming album has halted all marketing and promotion of her work. Perversely – some might say ‘sadistically’ – the company has also committed to donating all profits from the album to pro-trans groups.

What’s particularly troubling about this story is the fact that someone Ms Murphy knew and presumably trusted initiated the pile-on, taking a screenshot of a message she’d written on her private Facebook account and then sharing it publicly.

As Suzanne Moore points out for the Telegraph, that’s how the Stasi operated: getting ordinary people to inform on each other, neighbour against neighbour, child against parent. There was constant surveillance of every activity. There could be no private space.

In Manchester, another private conversation resulted in similar trouble recently. In a hotel during the city’s Pride festival, Dev Mistry, a burlesque performer, overheard a member of staff talking about trans people. He had to take his headphones out to hear precisely what they were saying. “It was not necessarily malicious, but it was that ‘men are men’ and ‘women are women’ and there’s no in between,” Mistry said. He complained to reception and the employee reportedly apologised for causing offence, but Mistry had made sure his complaint went to the hotel’s head office. HR was informed and agreed that staff needed to have more training on LGBTQ issues.

Some of the calls for cancellation that arose during the Edinburgh Festival also involved sieving through someone’s tweets. A couple of wrong “likes” were enough to cause the Royal Lyceum Theatre’s David Greig to issue a grovelling apology for “careless and harmful” behaviour. The tweets he had liked were perceived to be transphobic.

“Who is on the central committee that now governs arts and culture whereby rigid gender ideology must be so enforced and never questioned?” Suzanne asks. “The very place where we should be able to discuss issues is utterly closed. The Stonewall tactic of “No Debate” has served to make the arts a place where people can inform on each other for wrongthink.”

Join the FSU before its membership fees go up!

The FSU is going to be putting up its membership fees later this month, the first time they’ve been raised since we launched three years ago. They’ll only be going up by 20%, lower than the rate of inflation in those three years, but we need to increase them if we’re to continue offering our members the same benefits, which can include expensive legal support.

Which makes this an excellent time for supporters to join. Not only will they be able to join at the current rate, but they won’t be charged at the new rate until after 1st October 2024. That’s right – for all those who’ve already joined by the time the price goes up, we’ll be locking in the old price, which means they won’t be charged at the new higher rate for at least a year. (That also applies to existing members.)

As a member of the FSU, not only will they get top level support if they get into difficulty for exercising their right to lawful free speech, as well as invitations and discounted tickets to all our events and our newsletters. They’ll also get exclusive access to our premium content.

At the moment, everything on our website is free, but when we relaunch it later this month we’re going to be restricting access to our premium content – such as our FAQs on what to do if you’ve been de-banked and our extended interviews with free speech champions like Douglas Murray and Kathleen Stock – to our members.

So, if you know a supporter who values the work we do, please urge them to join today. We’ll be relaunching the website and increasing our membership fees on Friday 15th September. And remember – if they join before the prices go up, they won’t be charged at the new rate for at least a year.

They can join by clicking here.

Kind regards,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer

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