War hero Dr Kelvin Wright cleared of wrongdoing by British Army for holding ‘gender critical’ views!
FSU member Dr Kelvin Wright, a colonel who was forced out of the army after being hit with a transphobia complaint for stating that “men cannot be women”, has been cleared of any wrongdoing by an official inquiry.
That’s a terrific outcome – the FSU has been supporting Dr Wright every step of the way during this Kafkaesque investigation and arranged for him to receive top-drawer legal advice while committing to foot any legal bills.
The freedom to express your views in the public square is a fundamental human right that the British Army is supposed to be defending, not attacking. It’s therefore reassuring to see that the inquiry’s findings are full of praise for Dr Wright and make clear that he has a legal right to express his gender critical beliefs.
Dr Wright joined Piers Morgan on TalkTV recently to talk about his ordeal. During a barnstorming appearance that gives a sense of the calibre of commanding officer the army has lost, he recounted how back in 2021 he’d shared a post on his private Facebook account from Fair Play for Women, a campaign group fighting to defend the integrity of women’s sport. The post consisted of a quote from Dr Helen Joyce, the Director of Advocacy at campaign group Sex Matters. Shared without any additional comment, it read: “If women cannot stand in a public place and say ‘men cannot be women’, then we do not have women’s rights at all.”
A solitary complaint then snowballed, and a group that Dr Wright describes as the Army’s “LGBT champions” subsequently drew up a seven-page dossier about his “substandard behaviour” – which he was never allowed to see.
However, we know that one of the complaints against Dr Wright was that he was prejudiced for banning pronouns badges from uniforms.
Another grievance related to Dr Wright’s wife saying of Strictly Come Dancing that she liked to see men and women dance together.
Unbelievably, a formal investigation was then opened, and could have led to Dr Wright being formally censured under the Army’s Major Administrative Action process.
I’m delighted that the investigation has now cleared Dr Wright of all wrongdoing, although the complaint against this army medic, who did tours of Afghanistan, should never have been taken seriously.
Live in conversation: Nigel Farage and Toby Young!
Please do join me for what looks set to be a fascinating late-night event in London on Monday 9th October at the Hippodrome where I’ll be in conversation with broadcaster and former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage. We’ll be discussing the latest threats to freedom of speech, including politically motivated financial censorship. Following Nigel’s de-banking by Coutts earlier this year and the closure of the Free Speech Union’s account by PayPal in 2022, we’ve both got plenty of what progressives like to call ‘lived experience’ of that particular issue.
There will, of course, be an audience Q and A. Tickets are £25 and include a free bar (wine and beer only) between 8 and 9pm. Tickets are available here.
Big legal victory for FSU member after workplace critical race theory dispute!
In a ground-breaking judgment against cancel culture, 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 (CRT) in his workplace!
It is believed to be the first time a judge has ruled that holding a contrary view to CRT is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.
This is a terrific result – the FSU has been supporting Mr Corby every step of the way in his dispute with ACAS and helped him secure top-drawer legal representation in the form of barrister Jon Holbrook.
Mr Corby had written on a workplace ‘Yammer’ forum that CRT is divisive because it portrays white people as racist and argued that a better approach to addressing racism in society is to follow the advice of Martin Luther King, who said people should be judged by the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin.
However, some of Mr Corby’s colleagues then complained to bosses that his comments “demonstrated a deep-rooted hatred towards black people” and “promoted racist ideas”.
Although ACAS dismissed these complaints, they instructed Mr Corby to remove the posts on the grounds that these complainants had found them offensive.
Mr Corby then took ACAS to an employment tribunal, claiming he had been unlawfully discriminated against and his views were protected under the Equality Act 2010, in the same way as his colleagues’ advocacy of CRT is protected.
Employment Judge Kirsty Ayre has now ruled in Corby’s favour, which means that his belief in a ‘colour blind’ approach to tackling racism amounts to a characteristic that will now be protected by 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 to consider whether ACAS unlawfully discriminated against him for expressing what are now his 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 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.
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 that have for too long been indulging the every whim of their woke, activist employees 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.
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, the organisers decided to no-platform her. Commendably, her fellow panellists withdrew from the event in solidarity and the debate was cancelled.
When news of this incident broke, the FSU wrote to the conference organiser, urging him to respect free speech and reconsider his decision. (You can read our letter to the organiser here, in which we asked him to apologise).
The organiser did then issue an apology to Dr Sehgal Cuthbert, but alas this was after the conference had ended, which meant that delegates lost the opportunity to hear an open debate on this contested topic.
However, 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 DDU. 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 join online here.
Online Safety Bill to receive Royal Assent in much improved form following FSU campaign work!
The UK’s controversial and long-awaited Online Safety Bill, which grants Ofcom sweeping new surveillance and censorship powers, has been passed by Parliament and will soon become law, the government has said.
The FSU is disappointed that the legislation has been passed. But thanks to our lobbying and campaign work, as well as the emails our members sent to their MPs to share their concerns using our digital campaigning tool, the version of the Bill reaching the statute books is a significant improvement on earlier versions.
The obligation on social media companies to “address” so-called ‘legal but harmful’ content, as set out in Clause 13 of previous iterations of the Bill, has now been removed. Our objection to this clause was that the phrase “address” risked becoming a euphemism for “remove”. If the government had published a list of legal content it considered harmful to adults – which a provision in an earlier version of the Bill enabled it to do – and imposed an obligation on in-scope providers to say how they intended to “address” this content, that would have nudged them to remove it. Thanks to our campaigning, however, that obligation (and that provision) has now been scrapped.
The new Harmful Communications Offence, which was to replace s127 of the Communications Act 2003 as well as the Malicious Communications Act, and could have seen people jailed for two years for sending or posting a message with the intention of causing “psychological harm amounting to at least serious distress”, has also gone. In other words, the legislation won’t now criminalise saying something, whether online or offline, that causes hurty feelings and we deserve some of the credit for that.
The original duty imposed on social media companies to “have regard” for freedom of expression has now been bumped up to “have particular regard”, another improvement we can claim credit for.
We were also well ahead of the curve in promoting user empowerment as an alternative to the de facto policing of ‘legal but harmful’ content by Silicon Valley based Big Tech companies — in the final iteration of the legislation, the locus of responsibility for online safety decisively shifts from ‘paternalist providers’ to ‘empowered users’. The result is that instead of saying how they intend to “address” harmful content in their terms of service, providers will now have to say what tools they’re going to make available to their users who don’t want to be exposed to it.
I should also stress that the passage of the Bill onto the statute book is not the end of the story as far as the FSU’s campaigning work goes.
Ofcom’s Chief Executive, Dame Melanie Dawes, has confirmed that the UK’s new regulator for online safety will shortly be setting out the first set of standards that it expects tech firms to meet when it comes to offering users the option to filter out ‘harmful’ content they don’t want to see.
The FSU will be watching closely to see how those ‘standards’ end up influencing the user empowerment tools that each social media platform offers to its users.
Can words really hurt? Tickets for our Edinburgh Speakeasy now available!
Join us on Wednesday October 25th in Edinburgh for the FSU’s next Speakeasy, where we’ll be discussing the threat posed to free speech by growing attempts to police ‘hate’. Our expert panel includes Associate Professor in Political Philosophy at the University of Melbourne, Prof Holly Lawford-Smith, the editor of Scottish Legal News Kapil Summan, and Lecturer in Public Law at the University of Glasgow, Dr Michael Foran.
I doubt the panel will be short of things to talk about. Almost three years after receiving royal assent, Scotland’s controversial Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act – which FSU Scottish Advisory Council member Jamie Gillies describes as an “authoritarian mess” – is due to be activated in 2024. It was reported recently that Police Scotland are setting up a special unit to deal with the new hate crimes that are now codified in law and training is underway. Widespread concern about the chilling effect on free speech of this legislation was one of the reasons the FSU set up a dedicated Scottish office in 2021.
Tickets are £5 for FSU members and £10 for non-members. The link to purchase tickets is here.
FSU writes to Oxford University over “free speech stifling” trans inclusion policy!
In my capacity as the FSU’s General Secretary, I wrote to the Master of Regent’s Park College, Professor Sir Malcolm Evans, asking him to withdraw the College’s ‘Trans Inclusion Statement’ (the Statement), which we believe is based on a misunderstanding of the Equality Act 2010. The Times covered the story here.
Regent’s Park College published its 1,200-word statement in June, which all students and employees of the College have 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’)”.
As I point out in the letter, however, 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.”
In his response to my letter, Professor Evans insists that for a student with gender critical beliefs to be the victim of any form of harassment as a result of their holding or expressing their lawfully held views “would be a matter of concern under this policy in exactly the same way as would the harassment of a trans person”.
I’m grateful to Professor Evans for his reply and for giving that assurance. It’s certainly true that the Statement refers to the need to “uphold lawful freedom of expression” and protect “lawfully expressed gender-critical beliefs”. Nonetheless, 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 – still risks breaching the College’s legal duty to uphold free speech (a duty that, as explained above, is not diluted by the Equality Act).
That’s why we remain concerned that 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 an ideology that they don’t subscribe to.
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.
Sibyl Ruth receives damages and an apology following sacking for gender critical tweets
Many of you will be familiar with the case of writer, editor and FSU member Sibyl Ruth. Sibyl was effectively terminated by Cornerstones Literary Consultancy without explanation or notice because she tweeted about her gender critical beliefs.
The FSU has been supporting Sibyl since she approached us about a year ago – we helped her in the early stages of her dispute with Cornerstones, linked her up with top notch employment solicitor Emma Hamnett of Doyle Clayton and set up a CrowdJustice page for her. Sibyl, whom Cornerstones argued was self-employed, was due to go to the Employment Tribunal on September 14th to argue that she was in fact a worker entitled to Equality Act protections. She needed to get over this hurdle to make her case that Cornerstones discriminated against her because of her age and beliefs.
However, we’re now pleased to announce that the case has been settled and Cornerstones has issued an apology. The apology recognises that Sibyl holds gender critical feminist beliefs, that she is “entitled to these views even if Cornerstones does not share aspects of those views” and that these are “worthy of respect in a democratic society”.
This is an excellent outcome for Sibyl who, after fighting for her right to express her lawful beliefs, can now move on with her life. The outcome of this case is not just a victory for Sibyl but for all gender critical feminists and it serves as an important reminder to businesses to treat all staff, no matter their age or beliefs, fairly and with respect.
Sibyl has posted an update to her crowdfunder page to share the news of her settlement and to thank the FSU and her legal team for all the work they’ve done on her case. Sibyl writes:
Most of all I am grateful to everyone who donated to this crowdfunder. This outcome would not have been possible without your support and help… My hope for the future is that arts organisations will recognise the rights of all precariously employed workers to express their lawful opinions outside the workplace.
Big free speech victory as bill to ban conversion therapy is scrapped!
According to “sources” cited in the Sunday Times, the government is expected to formally announce that legislation to ban ‘conversion therapy’ will be scrapped.
This is a significant victory for free speech – and thanks in no small part to the thousands of FSU members and supporters who used our digital campaigning tool to email their MPs urging them to scrutinise the Government’s proposals and consider the unintended consequences for freedom of speech if ‘conversion therapy’ is defined too broadly.
Of course, there are some forms of ‘conversion therapy’ that few people would object to being banned, such as attempts to stop someone from being gay or transgender via exorcism, physical violence or food deprivation. No-one is disputing that ‘treatments’ of this kind have no place in a free society. But a bill isn’t required to ban them because such practices are already illegal in the UK.
The risk to free speech is that a poorly worded bill would effectively criminalise parents, teachers and doctors who deviated from an ‘affirmative’ approach to gender dysphoria in children and adolescents. Even a carefully drafted bill would be in danger of being amended by members of the LGBTQ+ lobby as it went through parliament, so it ended up banning ‘conversion therapy’ of that kind.
That might seem like an outlandish fear, but in the Australian state of Victoria, where ‘conversion therapy’ has been banned since 2021, a parent who refuses to support their child’s request for puberty blockers is at risk of prosecution.
The FSU has been lobbying hard against this bill for over a year and is delighted the government has listened — not just to us and our members, but to all the other advocacy groups concerned about the bill’s impact on freedom of expression.
The FSU’s Communications Officer, Freddie Attenborough, has written an excellent piece about this major victory for free speech in The Critic – you can read that here.
FSU’s Chief Legal Counsel gives evidence to Public Bill Committee
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 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. The two hosts also discuss the victory of Dr Kelvin Wright and the no-platforming of Dr Alka Sehgal-Cuthbert. The link to download the episode is available here.
FSU Australia launches!
I’m delighted to announce the launch of FSU Australia – a sister organisation and the latest addition to our growing family, which so far includes the FSU New Zealand and the FSU South Africa. You can find FSU Australia’s X (formerly Twitter) account here, and find its website here. In fact, we’re soon going to be announcing a fourth sister organisation – more details on that one in due course!