This month we can report a number of successes on multiple fronts.
Earlier this year we submitted a complaint to the Charity Commission about a charity that named the teacher who attracted complaints after showing a cartoon of Mohammed to his RE class at Batley Grammar School, thereby putting his life in danger. Following our intervention, the Commission has effectively upheld our complaint against the Purpose of Life charity, handing it an Official Warning and rebuking it for putting the teacher’s safety in serious danger, and also for taking part in political activity and campaigning. In its strongly-worded rebuke, the Commission said the Purpose of Life had engaged in misconduct, mismanagement and a breach of trust.
The Commission concluded that the charity’s actions were “likely to inflame existing tensions within the local community” and ordered the trustees to vet individuals and organisations the charity works with, including their political links. The regulator has also warned of the possibility of further action.
In a report in the Telegraph about the charity’s misconduct, I was quoted as follows:
I welcome the action the Charity Commission has taken: naming the teacher at Batley Grammar School on Twitter was an irresponsible thing to do, given that a French teacher embroiled in a similar row had been beheaded by an Islamist terrorist the year before.
Teachers should be free to discuss controversial topics without having to worry that they will be doxxed by activists who take a particular side in those controversies and their lives put in danger.
Catholic chaplain can take his post following the FSU’s intervention
Father David Palmer was blocked from taking up his post as the Catholic Chaplain at Nottingham University because of his social media posts opposing abortion and euthanasia. We wrote to the Vice-Chancellor, pointing out that refusing to recognise his appointment because of his religious beliefs was a breach of the Equality Act, and advising her that we would support Father David if he decided to take legal action. The University has now reversed its decision, and Father Palmer is in post as Chaplain. Father Palmer thanked us and the Alliance Defending Freedom for our help. The news was reported by the BBC, in the Christian Post, the Catholic News Agency, and internationally. You can read the University’s positive response to our letter here.
The FSU gives evidence to MPs on the state of free speech in higher education
We were invited to give evidence to MPs on the need for the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill. In his oral evidence to the Public Bill Committee our Chief Legal Counsel, Dr Bryn Harris, cited some of the cases where we have acted to protect the rights of students, academics and university staff. His testimony can be read in Hansard. The committee also heard from our chair, Professor Nigel Biggar CBE, and Dr Arif Ahmed MBE of our Advisory Council, as well as Professor Kathleen Stock OBE, who took part in our July Speakeasy. Their testimony can be found here.
Our letter to Bristol on behalf of human rights professor punished for criticising Sharia
Human rights expert Professor Steven Greer was subjected to a five-month-long investigation by Bristol University after a “vicious” campaign by the Islamic Society to oust him because he criticised the treatment of women under Sharia law. Although he was completely exonerated, Prof Greer’s long-running module was ditched by university bureaucrats in case it upset or “othered” Muslim students. We wrote to Professor Judith Squires, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost of Bristol University, challenging her to answer eight questions about the episode, including why the module was dropped after Professor Greer was cleared, and how the decision could possibly be consistent with Bristol’s professed commitment to academic free speech. In her reply she said that academic freedom was a “privilege” that came with “responsibilities”.
Student audience overwhelmingly rejects cancel culture at Exeter debate
One year after we got journalist Caroline Farrow reinstated after she was no-platformed by the University of Exeter Debating Society, its members voted by 3-1 to reject cancel culture. FSU case officer Benjamin Jones returned to the society he once ran, along with Nick Buckley MBE, the charity founder who was fired by his own trustees after criticising the ideology behind Black Lives Matter and whom we helped to get reinstated. They proposed the motion “this house regrets the rise of cancel culture” and Nick spoke powerfully about his own experience of surviving cancel culture. They won 75% of the final vote, from an audience of c. 220 students. It is a heartening sign that free speech is not a lost cause among today’s students.
Three wins for FSU members
The vast majority of our case work cannot be made public, either to protect the member in question, or for legal reasons. But we can share some examples of victories in these recent cases.
- Last month we successfully helped an academic who had been fired for a social media post to secure a financial settlement from their former employer.
- We’ve been providing advice and support to an academic who criticised the excessively woke culture at their university and was facing a potential investigation as a result. With our help, the academic was able to rebuff this attempt to cancel them and the university has now backed down.
- A vet contacted us for advice earlier this year when she faced an investigation by her professional regulator for social media posts criticising the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Having been cleared, she wrote us the following note: “All in all, I would call it a very lucky escape in the current climate. I am so very happy to have had you ready to ‘bite back’ if my case had taken another, more sinister turn which I have to say has given me great consolation and comfort in this very long interim of waiting. I will most definitely be a solid member of your amazing organisation. Many, many thanks for what you and your team do and for your admirable efforts.”
We field dozens of emails every week from members asking for our assistance. If you’d like to help our small case team fight for the rights of our members, please donate to our fighting fund. Your help can make a huge difference to the people we represent.
Government-owned company silenced employee who criticised woke “awareness days”
We came to the aid of FSU member Paul Thomas after he criticised a barrage of diversity initiatives from his employer, a government-owned infrastructure company, from World Hijab Day to Virtual Pride. He went on his employer’s internal discussion forum and asked why these events were being flagged up to employees and what their relevance was to the quango’s work. He said: “If the employer is going to push upon us political issues that have nothing to do with the nature of our work, and then provide space for comment, then it has to accept criticism as well as agreement.” One of his colleagues complained about his comments and he was banned from making any further posts for two years. We have dealt with several similar cases recently of government-owned companies and quangos subjecting employees to incessant woke propaganda, far removed from their core business, and then silencing them when they ask why this is happening. If you’re in a similar situation, you can contact our cases team for help on [email protected].
Top barrister goes to bat for train conductor sacked for celebrating the end of lockdown
Thanks to the generosity of our members and supporters, Jeremy Sleath – the train conductor fired for saying he was relieved the UK wasn’t going to become an alcohol-free caliphate after the pubs finally re-opened – had a top barrister to argue his case at his hearing last month. In just four days we raised an incredible £22,000 to fight his case – before our intervention Jeremy had been forced to represent himself in the proceedings. We’re now waiting for the judgment. Thank you to everybody who donated. Jeremy wrote to us asking to share this message of gratitude:
Many thanks to the hundreds of complete strangers, but genuinely upstanding citizens, who donated to my legal fund to fight my ridiculous dismissal from my job for saying I didn’t want to live in a Muslim caliphate or for the UK to become one.
I’ll never forget your concern, generosity, and support for free speech.
The person who gave £5,000: You are incredible whoever you are, and I hope you read this. I want to send you a Christmas present every year. Or at least a card!
We have concluded the unfair dismissal tribunal, and await the verdict.
We must fight, and fight on, for freedom of speech.
Jeremy Q. Sleath
Written evidence to the Law Commission and the Joint Committee on Human Rights
We have published a more extensive response to the recent proposals of the Law Commission to reform communications law, which accepted many of the proposals we made in our submission to the Commission’s consultation. While we welcome some aspects of the Commission’s recommendations, we have also warned that any new offences created would need to require robust proof of serious harm and intent to cause harm. Our full briefing, by Dr Radomir Tylecote, can be found here.
Our written evidence to the consultation by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights on Freedom of Expression has been published on the Parliamentary website.
Worcester stresses free speech commitment after issuing apology for hosting Christian group
We wrote to David Isaac, the former Chair of Stonewall and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, now Provost of Worcester College, following his apology to “distressed” students and staff after the College hosted a group linked with Christian Concern. In his reply to us he stressed his commitment to free speech and said the College would hold a review, which would give Christian Concern the opportunity to make the case for its own defence.
Battle of Ideas
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 me, 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 what the most effective ways are of surviving 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 supporters, 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?”
I’ll be there, along with most of the FSU’s staff, encouraging others to join the FSU, so come and find us at our stall and say hello. Buy tickets here.
We’re trying to sign-up our 10,000th member by the end of the year. Join us today and help us defend your rights. Thank you for your support of the Free Speech Union.