We are very concerned about the safety of the FSU member and Christian preacher Hatun Tash, who was slashed in the face with a knife at Speakers’ Corner last month. We first wrote to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick about Ms Tash on 2 June, following her arrest for breach of the peace, and we have written to her again, urging the Metropolitan Police to protect Ms Tash’s rights to life, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression. Below, you can see our original letter, the replies we received, as well as our most recent letter.
We have written to Sir Keir Starmer asking him to intervene after a member of ours discovered she is being used in a Labour Party training course as an example of a ‘transphobe’. Two years ago, Rebeka Wershbale was banned from a pub in Macclesfield for wearing a t-shirt that said: ‘Woman: adult human female.’ This is how the Oxford Dictionary of English defines “woman”, but it is now thought to be ‘trans exclusionary’ by woke activists since it implies that only biological females are women. A picture of Rebekah wearing the t-shirt appears on a slide in a Labour Party training course on how to avoid ‘casual transphobia’.
Toby Young, the FSU’s General Secretary, said: “I was genuinely shocked to discover one of our members is being publicly shamed as a ‘transphobe’ in official Labour Party training materials simply for wearing a t-shirt saying, ‘Woman: adult human female.’ That’s the Oxford Dictionary of English‘s definition and, I imagine, the same definition that the vast majority of Labour Party members use.
“Not only is this a grotesque attack on Rebekah Wershbale, it is discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010, which was passed by the last Labour Government. That Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against people on the basis of their protected characteristics, which include their philosophical beliefs. And we know from a recent ruling in the Employment Appeals Tribunal that the beliefs of gender critical feminists like Ms Wershbale are protected by law.
“We have written to Keir Starmer asking him to make sure these training materials aren’t used again, investigate how Ms Wershbale’s name and photograph came to be used in this way and apologise to her. We’ve also asked him to clarify what the Labour Party’s attitude is to gender critical beliefs. The Party’s members need to know whether this demonisation of Ms Wershbale for defining a woman as an adult human female is a regrettable error or official Party policy.”
Rebekah Wershbale said: “When the seriousness of the situation dawned on me I was horrified. To be singled-out as an example of a transphobic bully by someone I’d never even met or even interacted with was very disturbing, especially given that they used my name and photo. We know very well what happens to women in those crosshairs. We receive actual, real threats of violence and threats to our livelihood. Not just the vague threats of potential ‘misgendering’ or dogwhistling we’re accused of. How many people have gone through this course and seen my name and photo as an example of ‘transphobia’?
“My question is, who is being bullied here? I had no idea my name and image were being used in this way. Accusations of ‘transphobia’ have turned women’s lives upside down. I’m alarmed that this has been greenlit by the Labour Party, knowing what the potential backlash is for women in my position who refuse to play the game of pretend, and who stand up for women’s rights and biological reality.”
We have written to Oxford University Student Union about their decision to establish a ‘sensitivity reader’ service for student newspapers at the University. While much press attention has focused on the Cherwell, the older of Oxford’s student newspapers, we are more concerned about the Oxford Student. The publisher of the Oxford Student is owned outright by OUSU, and run by senior union officers.
Although the proposed service will be voluntary, it is hard to see how the Oxford Student could use it without being seen to compromise its editorial independence. This strikes us as an inappropriate decision for a newspaper proprietor to make, and one that puts its title in a difficult position. We suggest that proper safeguards be put in place to preserve the Oxford Student’s independence from its powerful proprietor.
We’ve written to all the companies that have stopped advertising on GB News in response to pressure from the left-wing lobby group Stop Funding Hate. Rather than put them all on here, we’ve include the one to IKEA as an example. Initially, IKEA said it wouldn’t advertise on the new channel again, but later walked this back to saying it would make a decision in ‘due course’. We respect the right of these companies to choose who they wish to advertise with, but we don’t think they should base those decisions on misinformation disseminated by a group of online activists with a political agenda.
We’ve written to University of Exeter’s College of Social Sciences and International Studies to warn them that their process for approving courses leaves them open to legal challenge. Academics wishing to propose new or amended modules must demonstrate how their course broadens horizons by ‘moving away from a white, Eurocentric curriculum.’ We believe this is an impermissible restriction on academic freedom. Academics should be free to determine for themselves how the horizons of knowledge can be broadened – whether that means embracing white Eurocentrism, rejecting it, or ignoring it entirely.
The College’s policy goes against Exeter’s previous good work in concluding an ‘Agreement on academic freedom’ in 2009. The agreement, much to Exeter’s credit, protects academics’ right to ‘teach without any interference’, prohibits attempts to force them ‘to instruct against their own best knowledge and conscience’, and guarantees them a ‘significant role in determining the curriculum.’
Our letter puts the University on notice that commitments to protect academic freedom have legal force, and should be honoured. We hope the College will reconsider its policy, before any academic falling foul of it brings a claim.
The University replied to us as follows:
We accept these are complex areas and will continue to work with academic staff to ensure their right to academic freedom is protected in line with the University’s academic freedom agreement and our relevant articles of governance. This will include undertaking a full review of our academic freedom agreement during the 2021-22 Academic Year to ensure that it reflects the expectations of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.
We have responded with a freedom of information request to uncover further details about how the policy came about and how it is being implemented.
We’ve written to the CEO of the Russell Group, as well as the Vice-Chancellors of all 24 Russell Group universities, advising them that the reporting schemes they’ve set up to enable students and staff to make complaints – about ‘micro-aggressions’, for instance – do not take account of their legal duty to uphold free speech and may render them vulnerable to legal challenge, particularly after the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill has become law. You can read more about these websites in the MailOnline.
UPDATE: Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group has responded. You can read the full text of his letter below. UPDATE: We have replied to Dr Tim Bradshaw’s response – see below for details.
We’ve written a letter to the Education Secretary about the shoddy treatment of Dr Bernard Randall, the chaplain who lost his job at a fee-paying CofE school after he preached a sermon urging the pupils to make up their own minds about LGBT issues and not just uncritically accept the prevailing orthodoxy. (The Mail on Sunday covered the story here.) The sermon, which you can read here, was a model of fair-mindedness, reminding the pupils that no one has a monopoly on moral truth, whether it’s traditional Christians or LGBT activists, and stressing how important it is to approach ethical disagreements with humility, tolerance and courtesy. In response, the school reported him to Prevent, the anti-terrorism unit, as if this sermon might have radicalised the students and made them targets for recruitment by far right extremists. We have asked the Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP if his matter can be investigated by the Department for Education as a matter of urgency.
Last week, the Telegraph‘s Camilla Turner revealed that Cambridge University had put a new reporting system in place, whereby students and staff were encouraged to report on other members of the University for various “inappropriate behaviour”, including giving someone a backhanded compliment, turning your back on certain people or not using someone’s preferred gender pronouns.
It was widely condemned, with one don saying: “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 told the Telegraph: “Cambridge University has just put a robust new free speech policy in place, which the Vice-Chancellor has welcomed. Why, then, has he approved this sinister new reporting system?”
We wrote to Professor Stephen Toope, the Vice-Chancellor (see below), pointing out that the new reporting website, along with the list of reportable offences, was incompatible with the University’s legal duty under the Education (No 2) Action 1986 to uphold free speech, and threatening to take the University to the High Court.
Today, Camilla Turner has written a follow-up story, revealing the website has been taken down.
Prof Toope said that since the website’s launch last week, “it has come to light that certain ancillary material was included in error”. He explained that the entire website had been taken offline while the material in question was removed, adding that the university had launched an investigation into how it was included in the first place.
“I believe that some of the statements and examples in this material go beyond the approved policy framework and would undermine its impact,” he said.
“The website has been temporarily taken down while that material is removed. I have asked senior staff to look into how this error occurred.”
We’re delighted that Cambridge has removed the website and will apply for a judicial review if it appears again in anything like its original form. We also stand ready to defend any of our Cambridge members who find themselves under investigation for ‘misgendering’ someone or any other lawful exercise of their right to free speech.
Professor Andrew Tettenborn, a member of the Free Speech Union’s Legal Advisory Council, has written to the Rt Hon Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, to respond to his Government’s consultation about its Race Equality Action Plan, an anti-racist initiative inspired, in part, by the protests that followed the death of George Floyd last year.
Professor Tettenborn has a number of concerns. For instance, he makes the following two points about the proposal to include mandatory anti-racism teaching in Welsh schools:
(i) Matters such as the pervasive existence of structural or systemic racism, the equal validity of ‘lived experience’ when set alongside other forms of knowledge, such as that based on empirical data, and the existence of ‘white privilege’, are extremely controversial and if taught as incontrovertible fact would require teachers to take a side in subjects of ongoing legitimate public debate. No child should be taught any of this as incontrovertible fact, but, rather, they should be introduced to these ideas alongside other points of view – such as the views expressed in the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report – in a politically balanced way.
(ii) Equally, in line with the aim of the education system to produce confident and articulate children, no child should be sanctioned, punished or disadvantaged for disagreeing with statements of the existence of such matters. For instance, a child should not be made to feel ignorant or morally blind by their teacher or by their classmates if they challenge the concept of ‘white privilege’.
You can read the full text of Prof Tettenborn’s letter below.
UPDATE: Dr April-Louise Pennant, the Race Equality Action Plan development officer, has responded. You can read the full text of her letter below.
An appearance by Julia Hartley-Brewer on ITV’s This Morning on 15 April resulted in 203 complaints being made to Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator. Her sin was to make fun of Meghan Merkle, the Duchess of Sussex. (You can read about the brouhaha in the Mail.) The Free Speech Union wrote to the Chief Executive of Ofcom, pointing out that what she said was not a breach of the Broadcasting Code:
Even if the comment could be deemed offensive in accordance with section 2.3, the context clearly did justify it. Ms Hartley-Brewer was referring to an ongoing controversy about the veracity of the Duchess’s claims about racism within the Royal Family – claims which potentially affect the Queen’s standing as head of state and head of the Commonwealth. As you will be aware, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which Ofcom must act in accordance with, grants a wide freedom to discuss matters of public interest and controversy, and especially so for journalists and broadcasters such as Ms Hartley-Brewer.
You can read the letter in full below.
Stop Press: Ofcom replied to us on 26 April to tell us that it has decided not to investigate the matter any further.