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Schools Should Not “Isolate” Pupils Who Joke About Covid

Sharing memes like this should not be against school rules

The Free Speech Union has learned from concerned parents and media reports that certain schools have instituted blanket bans on “joking about coronavirus” and we believe this to be an unreasonable restriction with potentially disproportionate punishments, such as being placed in isolation.

No-Platforming Incident at Exeter University

We found out this morning that Caroline Farrow, a Catholic journalist and member of the Free Speech Union, has been no-platformed by the University of Exeter Debating Society. She was due to speak on 18th September in a debate on whether prostitution should be legalised, but she was notified at 11am today that she’d been disinvited because of her religious beliefs on a range of LGBT issues. This is a clear case of no-platforming and a breach of the University of Exeter’s professed commitment to free speech.

If the newly-installed Vice-Chancellor, Professor Lisa Roberts, doesn’t intervene to make sure the invitation is reinstated, it could also be a breach of the University’s legal duty to protect free speech, as set out in the Education (Nº 2) Act 1986, which was passed, in part, to prevent the no-platforming of visiting speakers at British universities. In particular, it would be a breach of s.43(a) of the 1986 Act, which requires universities to “take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers”. This Act and these words are referred to in Exeter’s “Freedom of Speech” policy.

The Free Speech Union has written to the Vice-Chancellor to complain about the censorious behaviour of the Debating Society and urged her to intervene. We await her response.

UPDATE: We sent our letter to the Vice-Chancellor at 4.30pm today, and received a response from the Vice-Chancellor’s Office at 9.22pm informing us that Caroline Farrow had been re-invited to speak at the debate tomorrow. We checked this with Caroline Farrow and, sure enough, she had received an email at 9pm from James Lindsay, the Interim Director of Membership Engagement at the University of Exeter Students’ Guild. It read:

I’m writing to you on behalf of the Debating Society at the University of Exeter Students’ Guild. I have been in touch with the society this evening and discussed the retraction of invite that was sent to you earlier today. I can confirm that this was sent in error and I apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Therefore, your invitation stands and we welcome your attendance at the debate tomorrow evening.

Well done to Professor Lisa Roberts for acting so quickly to ensure freedom of speech is upheld at Exeter and to the Chairman of the Debating Society for being willing to change his mind. We hope that no more speakers are no-platformed by British universities, but if they are this is exactly how university vice-chancellors and the officers in charge of student societies should respond when they’re made aware of how wrong it is to no-platform people, both morally and legally.

At the risk of repeating ourselves, if a group of students passionately disagree with the views of an invited speaker, they should welcome the opportunity to robustly challenge those views in the public square. If they can persuade others that they’re right they will advance their cause, whereas silencing their opponents will persuade no one who isn’t already convinced. It just makes it look as though they’re scared of being defeated in an open debate.

Charity Boss Reinstated After Free Speech Union Intervenes

This story appeared on Guido Fawkes on 23rd July:

Nick Buckley MBE, who was ousted as chief executive of his own charity last month following some mild criticisms of the Black Lives Matter manifesto, is back in charge thanks to the Free Speech Union. As of today, the trustees who fired him have all resigned, new trustees have been appointed and Nick has been re-appointed as CEO of Mancunian Way, the award-winning charity he founded in 2011.  Nick was sacked after an article he posted on Linked-In attracted controversy, including a Change.org petition demanding his head. In spite of the fact that the petition only attracted 465 signatures – and Nick himself founded Mancunian Way – the trustees terminated the charity’s service level agreement within a week of the petition being launched. 

Luckily, Nick is a member of the Free Speech Union. It got behind a counter-petition, which has attracted over 17,500 signatures, and found Nick a top flight solicitor in the form of Keystone Law’s Geoffrey Davies, an expert on charity law. After Geoffrey discovered some irregularities in the process the trustees had followed, and pointed these out to them, they agreed to resign. They have now been replaced by three new trustees, appointed by Nick. And Nick is now back at the helm.

Toby Young, General Secretary of the FSU, tells Guido:

“I’m delighted Nick has been reappointed to the charity that he founded and which has done so much to help disadvantaged young people in Manchester. No one should lose their livelihood at the behest of a left-wing outrage mob. Nick’s sacking was an example of cancel culture at its worst and I’m pleased that the FSU and Geoffrey Davies have been able to get him his job back.”

And they would have got away with if it wasn’t for that pesky Free Speech Union. You can support the Free Speech Union below:

As Nick Buckley says: “The FSU is a much needed organisation and without it I would have not stood a chance of righting an obvious wrong.” Give generously…

Submission to the Scottish Parliament on the Hate Crime Bill

This is the evidence the Legal Advisory Council of the FSU has submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee about the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill. It is already an offence under Scottish law to stir up racial hatred, but this proposed legislation will extend this so it applies to “stirring up hatred” against people on the basis of their religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, transgender identity or variations in sexual characteristics, where “stirring up hatred” is defined as behaving in “a threatening, abusive or insulting manner” to a member of one of these groups, either with the intent to stir up hatred or where that is the likely outcome.

This definition of “hate crime” is far too broad and will enable groups claiming to speak for people in these protected categories to lobby the authorities to prosecute anyone who challenges their ideology on the grounds that doing so is likely to stir up hatred. Under this new law, not only will those who challenge identitarian dogma be vulnerable to prosecution, but anyone who possesses “inflammatory material” will be too, as will theatre producers who put on plays expressing these forbidden ideas and the actors who perform in them. If the Bill passes, Scotland will become the most aggressive regulator of speech in the United Kingdom and one of the most belligerent in Europe. And it could easily become the basis of a similar law in England and Wales.

Several members of the Legal Advisory Council contributed to this document, with Andrew Tettenborn, Professor of Commercial Law at Swansea University, pulling the contributions together.

Letter to the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University

The language the Tudor historian David Starkey used in an interview with the young journalist Darren Grimes crossed the line, as he admitted when he apologised for it. He described it as “deplorably inflammatory” and a “bad mistake”. But did he really deserve to be subjected to what George Orwell described as the “Two Minutes Hate”? In his public apology, the historian said he had lost “every distinction and honour acquired in a long career” – a heavy price to pay for uttering one offensive word. Among the positions he lost was his Honorary Fellowship of Fitzwilliam College and that left me puzzled as to what standard Cambridge academics are being held to, given that a week earlier Dr Priyamvada Gopal, also a Fellow of a Cambridge college, was supported by the University after she tweeted “White Lives Don’t Matter”. “The University defends the right of its academics to express their own lawful opinions which others might find controversial,” it said. That’s a laudable principle, but why wasn’t Dr Starkey granted the same licence? We have written to Professor Stephen Toope, the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, seeking clarification.

Black Lives Matter: A Guide to Teaching Sixth Formers about Racism and Inequality

A teacher sent us this guide to teaching sixth formers about racism and inequality in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests and we thought it was so good we’ve decided to publish it. Teaching schoolchildren about these politically-charged issues in a balanced, fair-minded way is hard, not least because if you depart from the orthodoxies of the BLM movement you risk losing your job. To cite just one example, a headteacher at a school in Vermont called Tiffany Riley was removed from her job after she questioned some of the tactics of BLM activists on Facebook. Yet it is important to try and be balanced nonetheless. By that, we don’t mean presenting schoolchildren with the case for and against racism, obviously. Rather, presenting them a range of views about the prevalence of racism in contemporary Britain and America, about how racist those countries are compared to their past, about how racist they are compared to other countries, and the extent to which racism is responsible for racial outcome discrepancies. Children should be encouraged to think critically about these complicated issues and not succumb to group-think or, worse, publicly shame those who refuse to go along with the crowd. As the author of this guide says in the introduction, “Almost all politicians, journalists, academics and other public figures agree that racism is an evil that should have no place in our society, and that we must do everything we can to fight it. Yet there is also great disagreement about how to identify racism, the causes of inequalities between groups, and the right solutions for tackling racism.”

For any teachers drawn to these materials, but nervous about using them in their classrooms – perhaps because their school or college has enthusiastically endorsed the BLM movement – it’s worth remembering that schools have a legal duty to teach children about politics in a balanced way under the Education Act 1996. Section 406 prohibits “the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school” and s.407 says that “where political issues are brought to the attention of pupils” they should be “offered a balanced presentation of opposing views”. There can be no doubt that the BLM movement and the views of its members are political. It is a self-professed Marxist organisation that, among other things, wants to dismantle capitalism. Its British supporters believe that the police and the criminal justice system is systemically racist, that the UK owes its wealth to the slave trade and colonialism and that racism is by far the biggest cause of racial inequality in contemporary Britain. Those are perfectly legitimate points of view and a wealth of evidence can be marshalled to support them. But there is an equally legitimate alternative point of view which maintains that the British criminal justice system isn’t racist, that the slave trade and colonialism made a negligible contribution to the UK’s economic success and that racism is a cause of racial inequality, but not the only cause and not the most significant one. Plenty of evidence can be marshalled in support of that point of view, too. If teachers are going to broach these issues in the classroom, they have a legal duty to present both sides of the argument to children, not just echo the views of the protestors.

What we like about this guide is that the teacher who’s compiled it has clearly made an effort to be scrupulously fair-minded and to remain as neutral as possible in what must be the most heated debate of the moment, introducing children to the most articulate advocates on all sides. Of course, for some partisans, neutrality means you’re siding with the enemy – that if you refuse to endorse every jot and tittle of the BLM narrative you are complicit in the systemic racism that’s disfiguring the lives of black people. We reject that. We believe it’s possible to teach children about racism and racial inequality in a way that doesn’t affirm all the claims of the BLM movement and, at the same time, isn’t remotely racist. This is a complex subject and we believe all good teachers who raise it in their classrooms have a duty to do so in a fair and balanced way – not just a legal duty, but a professional one as well.

Update on Stu Peters

Great news! Stu Peters, the Manx Radio presenter who was suspended for challenging the concept of “white privilege” in a heated discussion during a late-night phone-in, has been cleared of any wrongdoing. The Isle of Man’s Communications Commission – its equivalent of Ofcom – has completed its investigation and concluded that Stu did not breach the Programme Code. In a “decision notice” published on June 24, the regulator said:

Whilst issues surrounding race can be an emotive matter, the debate in question was conducted in a fair and measured way, and for the most part, in a calm and open manner.

This is a significant victory for the Free Speech Union, which went in to bat for Stu, one of its members. On June 7 it wrote to the Communications Commission, asking it to exonerate the presenter. We pointed out that whether you agree with Stu’s views or not, it’s clear that he was exercising his right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Commission on Human Rights, which the Isle of Man is required to uphold under the Human Rights Act 2001.

Happily, the regulator agreed with us. The Commission noted that some of the language in the show – such as a caller using the word “coloured”, which Stu didn’t correct – was “insensitive”. But this wasn’t a reason to reprimand the presenter.

This must also be balanced against the provisions for freedom of expression in both the Code and the relevant Human Rights legislation which is clear that people are free to hold and express opinion without interference by public authority regardless of frontiers.

Toby Young, the General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, says:

The suspension of Stu Peters by Manx Radio and the investigation of him by the broadcasting regulator just because he challenged the concept of ‘white privilege’ is a clear breach of his right to free speech. The attempt to publicly shame people who don’t subscribe to the latest woke orthodoxies and rob them of their livelihoods is reminiscent of the struggle sessions during China’s Cultural Revolution. We would do well to remember that our grandparents fought and died to protect the right to challenge ideological dogma without being punished by the authorities.

Stu Peters says:

I am delighted to announce that I will be returning to Manx Radio’s Late Show on Wednesday 1st July.

I feel strongly that people should be able to discuss things rationally and respectfully – it’s the only way to resolve our differences – and worry that free speech for all could be under threat of being choked by some.

Manx Radio has acted properly and responsibly and I thank them for their faith in me. I would also like to thank the IOM Communications Commission for a thorough and fair report, and the thousands of people who have signed petitions and sent me messages of support. Of particular note is the Free Speech Union who took up my ‘cause’ and provided friendly guidance and practical advice – I would recommend them to anyone who has been told what to think or what to say.

Further letter to Change.org regarding Posie Parker

On 9th May we wrote to Change.org about the fact that it had taken down a petition by one of our members. Kellie-Jay Keen, more commonly known as Posie Parker, had her petition taken down on the grounds that it was “identified as hate speech”. The petition read: “Keep the dictionary definition of woman to mean adult human female.” This was in response to another petition calling for the Oxford English Dictionary to change the definition of woman to include “transgender woman”. Change.org claims to be a politically neutral platform that believes in free speech, yet it has taken down Posie Parker’s petition and left the other one on its platform where it has attracted nearly 35,000 signatures. We asked Change.org to reinstate Posie Parker’s petition, admit they were wrong to remove it and acknowledge that saying a woman is an adult human female is not “hate speech”. We haven’t received a reply so I wrote to Change.org again on 6th June.

Letter to the Morning Star Regarding Stella Perrett

We have written to Ben Chacko, editor of the Morning Star, to complain about his treatment of Ms Stella Perrett, a cartoonist and a member of the Free Speech Union.

Ms Perrett has been contributing cartoons to the Morning Star for over five years and in 2016 Mr Chacko described her as one of the paper’s “star cartoonists”. In 2018, he praised her and the paper’s other cartoonists for their “sharp-edged satire”.

Yet when a cartoon of hers in the paper on the weekend of 22nd – 23rd February it attracted criticism from trans activists, Chacko did not stand by her. (The cartoon depicted a crocodile entering a pond full of newts saying, “Don’t worry your pretty little heads. I’m transitioning as a newt!”) Instead of defending Ms Perrett, Mr Chacko terminated the paper’s relationship with her, apologised for publishing the cartoon and traduced her reputation. In a “Mea Culpa” published in the paper, he compared Ms Perrett’s cartoon to a “transphobic hate crime”, and accused her, indirectly, of “bullying and harassment”. Shortly afterwards, she lost her job working for the Public and Commercial Services Union.

It goes without saying that the cartoon doesn’t come anywhere near the threshold that would justify this kind of treatment. It doesn’t threaten violence and cannot reasonably be said to affect any person’s safety. While some may view it as offensive, that doesn’t begin to excuse the manner in which Ms Perrett was treated. “Sharp-edged satire” will inevitably offend some people; if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be “sharp-edged”.

We have asked Mr Chacko to apologise to our member and make it clear that his implied characterisation of her as a transphobe and a homophobe, and his depiction of her cartoon as a form of bullying and harassment, is unjustified. Alternatively, we have asked him to give her a right of reply in the pages of the Morning Star.

UPDATE: Ben Chacko has responded in a way that satisfied Stella Perrett and this case is now closed. The Mail on Sunday wrote about Stella’s case here.

Letter to the Isle of Man Communications Commission About Stuart Peters

The Free Speech Union has written to the Isle of Man Communications Commission following the news that it is investigating Manx Radio over remarks made by one of our members – Mr Stuart Peters, who presents the Late Show. The investigation concerns statements made by Mr Peters on the Late Show in a conversation with a caller into the programme, Mr Jordan Maguire, on Wednesday 3rd June.

In the conversation between them, Mr Peters contested the assertion that he has benefited from “white privilege”. This cannot conceivably justify any investigation by the Commission. Surely, in challenging the idea that all white people are, by virtue of the colour of their skin, “privileged” and cannot fully grasp the problem of racism, Mr Peters was complying with the Commission’s ‘Programme Code’, e.g. upholding the principle that “racist terms” and “insensitive comments”, as well as “stereotypical portrayals” that might “cause offence”, are unacceptable. Whether you agree with Mr Peters’ views or not, it is clear that he was exercising his right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Commission on Human Rights, which the Isle of Man is required to uphold under the Human Rights Act 2001.

The death of Mr George Floyd in the United States raises important issues about the criminal-justice system, and whether all races are treated equally in the eyes of the law – on both sides of the Atlantic – and these issues should be discussed in the public square. If we are to fully explore this issue and rectify any injustices, it is essential that all parties are free to discuss the matter without fear of censure. We cannot hope to get to the bottom of the issue if some people in this discussion feel they cannot express their views for fear of being publicly shamed or jeopardising their livelihoods.

Accordingly, we have written to the Commission and asked it to explain why it has launched an investigation into this matter, to confirm that it will be terminating the investigation and exonerating Mr Peters, and to make it clear that no such investigation will be started again in similar circumstances.