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.

Five Fantastic Events for FSU Members!

Understanding Tyranny and Liberty. Join us for this FSU Lecture on Tuesday 3rd October at 7.30pm. In-person tickets are now SOLD OUT, but online places are available here.

In Conversation: Nigel Farage and Toby Young. Our FSU London Speakeasy takes place on Monday 9th October at 9pm (doors open 8pm). In-person tickets are available here – please do BOOK NOW before they do on general release. Online places are available here.

Can Words Really Hurt? Our FSU Edinburgh Speakeasy takes place on Wednesday 25th October at 7pm. In-person tickets are available here.

What’s the State of Satire? This one is hosted by our friends at The Leeds Salon and takes place on Wednesday 25th October at 7pm. In-person tickets are available here.

The Battle of Ideas Festival is on Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th October in London, and includes the FSU session, Online Censorship, An International Clampdown? Speakers include Toby Young, Konstantin Kisin, Silkie Carlo, Norman Lewis and Thomas Fazi. Discount tickets are available here.

FSU re-arranges education conference panel for no-platformed academic!

On Saturday 23rd September, Dr Alka Sehgal Cuthbert was due to speak on a panel at the Rethinking Education conference in London, debating how we should distinguish education from indoctrination. However, two days before the event, Dr Sehgal Cuthbert was notified by the organisers that a handful of delegates had expressed concerns that their ‘psychological safety’ would be undermined by being in her presence, due to the campaigning work of her organisation Don’t Divide Us (DDU). DDU researches and challenges the divisive effect of identity politics in education and other policy fields.

Rather than explaining to the complainants that the purpose of the event was to debate challenging educational questions and that no ‘safety’ issues, psychological or otherwise, would be posed by Dr Cuthbert or any of the other speakers, the organisers instead decided to no-platform her (Spiked, Telegraph, Times). Commendably, her fellow panellists withdrew from the event in solidarity and the debate was cancelled.

The story hit the papers over the weekend and the FSU wrote to the conference organisers, urging them to respect free speech and reconsider their decision. (You can read our letter to the organisers here, in which we asked Dr James Mannion, the CEO of Rethinking Education, to apologise). After the conference had taken place, the organiser issued an apology to Dr Sehgal Cuthbert, but too late for those who wished to hear an open debate on such a contested topic.

But not too late for FSU members! We are delighted to announce that Dr Sehgal Cuthbert and all three of her psychologically resilient fellow panellists have agreed to speak at an alternative event, organised by the FSU in partnership with Don’t Divide Us. The debate, ‘What is indoctrination within education and how might it be avoided?’ will go ahead on Monday 16th October at 7pm, and FSU members can join the live audience by booking tickets here or alternatively can join online here.

FSU General Secretary to give Contrarian Prize lecture!

FSU General Secretary Toby Young will be delivering the Contrarian Prize lecture at Bayes Business School on Wednesday 1st November. In his lecture, entitled ‘Freedom of Speech and Censorship: Examining the Tensions between open discourse and harmful content’, he will argue that efforts to suppress misinformation, disinformation and ‘hate speech’ nearly always backfire and undermine democratic discourse.

Responding to the lecture will be Dr Mark Honigsbaum, Senior Lecturer in Journalism at City, University of London, and Jemima Kelly, columnist at the Financial Times. The event will be chaired by Cindy Yu, Assistant Editor of the Spectator.

This is a public conversation so there will be plenty of time for audience questions to really engage in a meaningful dialogue. Attendance is free but requires registration, so if you’d like to attend, please click here to find out more.

Anthropology panel event on biological sex cancelled after trans complaints

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) and the Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA) have decided to forbid scholarly dialogue at a joint conference in Toronto later this year by cancelling a panel.

The panel in question, ‘Let’s Talk About Sex Baby: Why biological sex remains a necessary analytic category in anthropology’, was initially accepted by the conference committee, only to then be cancelled after anonymous complaints were received from trans activist scholars.

In a co-authored letter that will no doubt have been of great comfort to the panellists as they learnt of their un-personing, the Presidents of the two organising Associations noted that “[t]his decision was based on extensive consultation and was reached in the spirit of respect for our values, the safety and dignity of our members, and the scientific integrity of the program”.

“The reason the session deserved further scrutiny,” they explained, “was that the ideas were advanced in such a way as to cause harm to members represented by the Trans and LGBTQI of the anthropological community as well as the community at large.”

“It is our hope,” the letter concluded, “that we continue to work together so that we become stronger and more unified within each of our associations. Going forward, we will undertake a major review of the processes associated with vetting sessions at our annual meetings and will include our leadership in that discussion.”

In their reply, the cancelled panellists took issue with that final, decidedly “alarming” statement. “Anthropologists around the world will quite rightly find chilling this declaration of war on dissent and on scholarly controversy,” they wrote. “It is a profound betrayal of the AAA’s principle of ‘advancing human understanding and applying this understanding to the world’s most pressing problems’.”

Latest episode of the FSU’s podcast available now!

The latest episode of the FSU’s weekly podcast is out now. This week the talking points include the parallels between last week’s letter from Dame Caroline Dinenage requesting on-line platforms to consider demonetising Russell Brand and the long but fascinating history of Acts of Attainder and an important victory for the FSU and one of our members. Colonel (retired) Dr Kelvin Wright has been cleared after he was investigated for sharing a Facebook post stating that “men cannot be women”. They also discuss the no-platforming of Dr Alka Sehgal-Cuthbert by Rethinking Education.

The link to download the episode is available here.

Legal victory for FSU member in critical race theory workplace dispute!

In a ground-breaking judgment against workplace cancel culture and for lawful freedom of expression, the Employment Tribunal has ruled that ACAS employee and FSU member Sean Corby was expressing a legitimate philosophical belief when he challenged Critical Race Theory in his workplace. As such, his belief amounts to a characteristic that will now be afforded protection by Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010. (You can read more about the case in the Times).

This is a terrific result – the FSU has been supporting Mr Corby in-house since the beginning of his dispute with ACAS and helped him secure top-drawer legal representation from the barrister Jon Holbrook.

Mr Corby, whose wife is black and who, as the Employment Tribunal notes, has “throughout his life… spent large amounts of time with black people and formed close relationships with them”, has been under investigation since August 2022, after colleagues complained that messages he posted on a private, workplace-based equality and diversity ‘Yammer’ forum were “discriminatory” and “racist”.

In an effort to get him fired, the four complainants accused Mr Corby of “using the Yammer platform to promote racist ideas”. Elsewhere in the formal complaint it was alleged that he had “demonstrated a deep-rooted hatred towards black and minority ethnic people”, that “I would not feel safe to be in contact with him in person”, and that “I fear for any black and minority ethnic people working [in his office] if,” they added caustically, “there are any”.

ACAS dismissed their complaints but did nevertheless instruct Mr Corby to remove the eight Yammer posts on the grounds that the complainants had found them offensive.

So what sorts of grotesquerie had Mr Corby been dabbling in? As the Employment Tribunal panel heard, the Yammer posts at issue had in fact cited entirely lawful – some might say ‘inspirational’ – defences of free speech around issues of race and race equality taken from such celebrated figures as Howard Thurman, the African American civil rights leader whose arguments against separatism and segregation later influenced Martin Luther King, the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who delivered an excoriating critique of cancel culture in last year’s BBC Reith Lecture on ‘Freedom of Speech’, and Ayishat Akanbi, the cultural commentator and author of The Awokening, who has warned that social justice campaigns can all too easily tip over into a form of “oppression Olympics”.

Hardly the stuff of which whispered, clandestine meetings of proscribed far-right groups in disreputable East End pubs are made, you might think. And yet, such are the vagaries of contemporary identity politics that right-on social justice warriors have now manoeuvred themselves into an ideological cul-de-sac position whereby ‘colour-blind’ approaches to achieving racial equality are considered ‘racist’.

According to Robyn DiAngelo, the doyenne of the well-remunerated, sharp-elbowed bien pensant class, the problem with Martin Luther King’s “content of their character” line is that it has been “seized upon by the white public because the words were seen to provide a simple and immediate solution to racial tensions: pretend that we don’t see race, and racism will end”. On this view, she argues, colour-blindness constitutes an obstacle to people recognising the racism that permeates every aspect of society. And not just an obstacle, either, because for DiAngelo and her acolytes, it is the very people who believe they are not racist, and particularly those who may have black friends or loved ones and who believe themselves to be progressive, who are likely to “do the most daily damage to people of colour”.

That’s why for proponents of critical race theory, racism can only truly be tackled via equity-based initiatives – or what in common parlance would be called ‘reverse racism’, wielded against whites and to the alleged benefit of blacks. As the now disgraced critical race theorist Ibrahim X Kendi explains, “the only remedy to past discrimination, is present discrimination”.

Not that the complainants in Mr Corby’s case bothered to articulate, let alone debate, this position. Instead, they fired off their formal complaints threatening their colleague’s career and livelihood having never actually met him. In this ostensibly abstruse dispute over a series of posts which appeared in a private workplace-chat with less than 100 members, the psychological “safety” of the complainants was deemed paramount, despite the fact that one of their number was a hardened political activist who previously featured on the front page of the Morning Star, happily promoting a brand of BLM-infused racial politics.

However, during a four-day hearing in Leeds, Mr Corby was able to persuade the panel that his opposition to CRT possessed a level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, that elevated it above a mere ‘viewpoint’ or ‘opinion’ and into the realm of a ‘philosophical belief’ that is worthy of respect in a democratic society, and that as such it attracts legal protection under the Equality Act.

That’s important for two reasons. First, it drastically improves Mr Corby’s chances of achieving a favourable outcome when the Tribunal resumes in April 2024, specifically to consider whether ACAS unlawfully discriminated against and harassed their employee for expressing what are now protected philosophical beliefs on race and racism.

Second, it sets an important legal precedent. While it’s true that the ruling is only a first-instance judgment, and not binding on others, it does nonetheless give some interesting indications of the way a tribunal can be expected to treat a similar case in the future, particularly in instances where an employee expresses a ‘colour-blind’ critique of the woke or critical theory approach to racism so in vogue with ‘progressive’ employers, associations, accreditation bodies and professional regulators up and down the country.

Employees have of course always been legally entitled to hold colour-blind ‘opinions’ on race and race equality – but in the wake of Mr Corby’s Employment Tribunal ruling, employers will have to confront the fact that manifesting those opinions through lawful speech and action has for the first time been granted protection under the Equality Act.

We hope it won’t be long before the ruling is being referenced by employment judges sitting at the Employment Tribunal.

Over in the U.S., writer and podcaster Coleman Hughes has had to endure a series of attempts by TED to suppress a recent talk in which he defended colour-blindness, after an internal employee resource group called “Black@TED” complained that the content of his lecture had “upset” them.

Closer to home, King’s College London recently took the decision to put equity inspired ideas of racial justice into action earlier this year by excluding white people from certain classes.

Just last weekend, Dr Alka Sehgal-Cuthbert, the academic and Director of Don’t Divide Us, was no-platformed from an education conference over claims that her campaign group’s colour-blind, meritocratic approach to race relations made other speakers feel “unsafe”.

At a more systemic level, the rapidly growing ‘B Corps’ movement, which now counts nearly 2,000 companies operating in Britain among its members, assesses any organisation that wishes to become a certified member against the principles of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion – or JEDI for short. Among other things, that means making a commitment to a critical race theory informed understanding of ‘racial justice’ that will likely lead to employees who don’t share that belief being penalised. We’d advise any employees of B Corps-certified companies to join the FSU.

Universities and risks of free speech failures

Our friends at Alumni For Free Speech (AFFS) have written to universities’ risk officers/committees pointing out in some detail the risks that universities take by not complying with their legal obligations to protect free speech, as so many currently fail to do, and making recommendations for action to reduce the risks by ensuring compliance.

These officers/committees should be independent from normal management in order to be able to pick up on risks created by managers themselves. They should therefore be, within the university context, relatively independent thinking, and they should care about getting legal compliance right.

It’s a letter that will no doubt prove extremely useful to anyone currently in the trenches for free speech at our universities – you can find it here.

Do support AFFS by joining them here.

Together event – discounted tickets available for FSU members

Together’s second anniversary event takes place in London tonight and FSU members can get £5 off tickets by using the code “FSU” at the checkout – you can find out more and book your tickets here.

Since its founding, Together has been at the forefront of many of the battles to defend freedom in the UK, mobilising its supporters against Covid lockdowns, de-banking and 15-minute cities. The group’s second anniversary event at Piranesian Central Hall in Westminster will welcome over a thousand people to discuss how we can preserve our hard-won civil rights.

Confirmed speakers include: Dr Jay Bhattacharya, Matt Goodwin, Sherelle Jacobs and Julia Hartley-Brewer.

Kind regards,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer

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