Monthly Newsletter

Monthly Newsletter

PayPal amendment to the Financial Services Bill needs your support

As many of you will know, last month PayPal closed the account of the FSU with no notice and no real explanation. Because about a third of our members pay their recurring membership dues via PayPal, that placed a huge question mark over the future of the organisation. We kicked up an almighty fuss and about two weeks later a bloody and bruised PayPal raised the white flag and restored our account.

That’s great, obviously, but there are plenty of other individuals and groups whose accounts have been closed by the company for what appear to be purely political reasons and we need to put a stop to this kind of censorship if we can.

Encouragingly, the Telegraph reported last month that Conservative backbenchers were “considering launching an amendment” to a Parliamentary bill that would effectively ban companies like PayPal from deplatforming customers because it doesn’t like their politics. Suitably buoyed by this news, the FSU has been lobbying the Government to develop a legislative mechanism capable of stopping Big Tech companies censoring people for expressing legal but dissenting views (or, as in the case of the FSU, for defending those who express legal but dissenting views).

An amendment has now been brought to the Financial Services and Markets Bill after 42 peers and MPs wrote to Andrew Griffith, the minister responsible for this Bill, to express their concern about PayPal Europe’s decision to close without notice or explanation the accounts of several advocacy, campaigning and journalistic groups in the UK, including the FSU, UsForThem and The Daily Sceptic.

New Clause 15 has been tabled by Sally-Ann Hart MP and will make it illegal for payment services providers to refuse service to customers in the UK because they have said something, or supported a cause, which the provider disapproves of, even though it’s perfectly legal.

This is the amendment we need to stop the emergence of a Chinese-style social credit system in the UK. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. At present, New Clause 15 has been tabled but not yet accepted. To ensure that Sally-Ann Hart’s proposal is adopted by the Government, we need to keep up the pressure on legislators, mobilising the extraordinary public opposition to PayPal’s recent behaviour.

So please use the FSU’s campaigning tool to write to your MP and urge to tell their whip that they support New Clause 15 of the Financial Services and Markets Bill.

The link to the tool is here and it only take a couple of minutes to fill out the form and send an email to your MP. The more people that click the link and get involved, the more likely we are to check the creeping trend of Big Tech platforms financially censoring people who express dissenting views before it starts to become institutionally normalised.

If you’re not a member yet, please sign up and join the fight against these censorious financial services companies.

If you’re already a member, please make a donation so we can devote the time and resources we need to win this battle. This the new front in the ongoing war against free speech and if we lose this one then free speech as we know will effectively be dead.

Neil Oliver

On 9th November I’ll be joined in conversation by historian, author and television presenter Neil Oliver. After a successful career as a TV historian, Neil has become one of GB News’s most popular presenters, with social media clips of his monologues often clocking up several million views. He was an outspoken critic of the UK’s lockdown policy and has subsequently raised questions about the efficacy and safety of the mRNA Covid vaccines. I’m looking forward to hearing Neil’s thoughts on his transformation from pillar of the Establishment to anti-Establishment rebel. Our online events are exclusive to FSU members. Members can find the link to register and receive the Zoom link in last Friday’s weekly Round-Up or in the regular emails from FSU Events. If you’re not receiving those, please email [email protected].

FSU helps secure apology and £10,000 damages for Christian Activist Hatun Tash

The Met Police has paid £10,000 in damages and apologised to the evangelical Christian activist and FSU member Hatun Tash, who was wrongly arrested at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, of all places. A letter from Inspector Andy O’Donnell, from the Met’s professional standards directorate, apologised to her “for the distress that you have suffered”. He said he was “satisfied that on these occasions the level of service did fall below the requisite standard”.

Although welcome, Inspector O’Donnell’s apology is long overdue. Over the past few years, Hatun has had to endure some truly appalling treatment at the hands of the police.

The FSU first wrote to the Met on Hatun’s behalf in 2021 after she was slashed in the face with a knife at Speakers’ Corner. (You can read that letter here). We urged the then Met Commissioner, Cressida Dick CBE, to do more to protect Ms Tash.

The second time we wrote to the Met was after I’d visited Speakers’ Corner in June of this year in my capacity as General Secretary of the Free Speech Union to celebrate its 150th anniversary, only to discover that she had been arrested her in the same spot the previous day. (I wrote about that episode for the Spectator.)

In a scandalous miscarriage of justice, Hatun was arrested and dragged away from the scene after being robbed — yes, you read that correctly — and taken into police custody for 24 hours where she was needlessly strip searched, interviewed, kept overnight in a cell, and then released without charge. She was later told by the police that the reason she’d been arrested was because she was wearing an ‘offensive’ t-shirt — it reproduced one of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

We wrote to the Acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Stephen House, asking him to justify this appalling treatment and, if he could not, to apologise to Hatun. (You can read that letter here). I’m delighted that the Met has, belatedly, done the right thing and that Ms Tash has now received an apology.

Thanks to the efforts of the Christian Legal Centre, who helped her bring a legal case against the Met, Hatun has also now been paid £10,000 in damages (which she has given to Christian Concern).

Joseph Kelly fundraiser – help stop the creep of blasphemy laws by another name in the UK

One of our most high-profile current cases is a good test of anyone’s free speech credentials. In fact, it’s probably best if you read this one with Lord Justice Sedley’s statement that free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the “heretical, unwelcome and provocative” fresh in your mind.

Joe Kelly was convicted and sentenced in Scotland for contravening the Communications Act 2003, section 127(1)(b), which makes it a criminal offence to make an electronic post which is “grossly offensive”. Mr Kelly was at home on 3 February, 2021, when he tweeted “the only good Brit soldier is a deed [i.e., dead] one, burn auld fella buuuuurn” in response to the news that Captain Tom, the 99-year-old former British Army officer who raised money for charity during the first Covid-19 lockdown, had died. The tweet was only visible to his handful of followers for 20 minutes before he began to receive threats directed against him and his family and deleted it. It wasn’t fast enough, however: someone had already reported Joe to the police for his tweet. So began a long legal process (Spiked have the full story and context).

The Scottish authorities decided to prosecute Joe, and despite his counsel’s best attempts to defend his right to free speech he was convicted and sentenced to a community payback order. Having had his appeal denied by the Scottish Courts and having been labelled an “example case” to deter others from “pressing the blue button”, i.e., posting offensive content on Twitter, Joe is now trying to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Yes, Kelly’s tweet was offensive. But so what? The right to offend is a crucial element of free speech, and it shouldn’t be the business of the police or the courts to protect people from hurty feelings.

The strength of free speech, the foundation of liberal democratic societies, is measured exactly by how tolerant we are of speech that we find reprehensible and offensive. Now more than ever, we should resist the urge of the state to criminalise expressions of dissent which relate to society’s ‘sacred cows’ — we cannot allow the development of blasphemy laws by another name.

That’s why this particular case is about much more than Joe Kelly’s own fight for justice. It’s about ensuring this punishment beating administered to deter others from speaking their minds does not achieve its aim.

Any donations made to Joe’s crowdfunder are to fund the legal expenses associated with preparation of an application to the European Court of Human Rights. We believe it’s a case that’s worth supporting — you can pledge your support here.

The FSU complains to Gonville and Caius’s College Council and Cambridge University’s Vice-Chancellor about the Master’s Email denouncing Dr Helen Joyce

As the Telegraph reported over the weekend, the FSU has written to Cambridge University’s Vice-Chancellor, as well as Gonville & Caius’s College Council, regarding the free speech implications of the astonishing email sent to all students last week by the College’s Master and Senior Tutor denouncing FSU Advisory Council member Dr Helen Joyce.

In their email, the Master of the College, Professor Pippa Rogerson, and Senior Tutor, Dr Andrew Spencer, dismissed Helen’s work as “polemics”, described her gender-critical views as “insulting and hateful to members of our community”, and declared that they would not be attending the talk she was due to give at Caius. On the eve of the event, the head of Cambridge’s sociology faculty also decided to apologise to students for the “distress caused” by sending them an email invitation to the talk.

No doubt encouraged by these expressions of disdain for Dr Joyce’s work, around a hundred protesters, some masked, gathered outside the talk chanting “trans rights are human rights” and banging drums. Witnesses claimed a fire door was hit and microphones had to be turned to full volume because Ms Joyce was becoming impossible to hear.

The first complaint the FSU has made is to the College Council, Caius’s governing body. As I pointed out to the Council, the email looks like it may have been a breach of the College’s Statement on Freedom of Speech. I also pointed out that “the inhospitable reception of Dr Joyce has turned the attention of the world on the College”, and that the College Council really “must now decide whether the College supports freedom of speech, or whether it is merely play-acting at being an institution of learning”.

The second letter we’ve sent was to Dr Anthony Freeling, Cambridge’s Acting Vice-Chancellor, arguing that the email, which was sent by the Master using her University email address, may have been a breach of her duty under s43 of the Education Act 1986 to uphold free speech on campus, which applies to all officers of English universities. We argued that Prof Rogerson’s email was at odds with the University’s own free speech policy and that she “must bear some responsibility for the intolerant and discourteous” protests that “rendered Dr Joyce inaudible at times”.

You can read both of the FSU’s letters here and watch FSU Advisory Council member Professor Douglas Stokes taking about the episode on GB News here.

FSU member Rachel Meade’s “Orwellian Nightmare” is finally over

As reported by the Mail this month, the year-long “Orwellian nightmare” of social worker and FSU member Rachel Meade, who was suspended for posting gender critical views on her private Facebook account, is over. The dedicated social worker with an unblemished 20-year record was suspended from her job at Westminster City Council after a single complaint was made by a Mr Aedan Wolton, then a colleague of hers and now Sport England’s ‘Diversity Champion’ about allegedly “transphobic” posts on her private Facebook page.

According to Mr Wolton, Rachel’s “transphobia” was evidenced by the fact that she shared links to news articles, including one from The Mail on Sunday, about transgender issues, as well as to blogs and petitions surrounding the national debate over whether it should be made easier for people to legally change their gender. Mr Wolton’s single complaint to the regulator Social Work England led to Rachel being suspended from her job for a year. She also faced being struck off by the watchdog at a ‘fitness to practice’ hearing. Legal proceedings hung over her for almost two years.

In a humiliating climbdown, Social Work England has now dropped its case against Rachel, who told the Mail that the “last two years have been nothing short of an Orwellian nightmare for me and my family”. She added: “My apparent crime was to share some news articles and petitions about the self-ID gender debate to fewer than 50 friends on Facebook. I found myself wrongly accused of holding abhorrent transphobic views.” Ms Meade’s solicitor, Shazia Khan, has, unsurprisingly, accused Social Work England of failing to uphold freedom of speech and called for a public apology. So far, they have declined.

It’s utterly ridiculous that Social Work England put Rachel through this ordeal on the strength of a single complaint from an ex-colleague. That said, I’m pleased that the FSU were able to support Rachel with her case and it’s good to hear that she will now be free to resume the career that she loves.

It’s probably also worth pointing out that Rachel’s “Orwellian Nightmare” demonstrates exactly why one strand of the FSU’s Parliamentary and lobbying work is now focused on persuading ministers and senior officials to amend the Employment Rights Act 1996 to make it impossible for companies to discipline staff for saying entirely lawful but contentious things outside the workplace. (You can watch me make the case for this amendment on GB News here.)

The FSU writes to the National Education Union regarding its definition of “transphobia”

Earlier this month I wrote to the National Education Union (NEU), Britain’s largest teaching union, after a whistleblower leaked a document to our organisation containing the NEU’s proposed definition of “transphobia” (LBCiNewsUnherd). The definition has been drafted after a resolution to develop a definition of transphobia was passed at the last annual NEU conference in the spring, and now looks likely to be adopted.

The proposal suggests that anyone who expects trans people “to participate in discussion or debate about their rights and/or identities” is transphobic, and cites “propagating ideas, concepts and misinformation harmful to trans people and which erase and ignore trans history” as examples of transphobic behaviour (while neglecting to define what is meant by “trans history” nor what “ideas, concepts and misinformation” would be considered harmful). It further defines transphobia as a “rejection of trans identity and a refusal to acknowledge that those identities are real or valid” or the “incorrect use of pronouns” (Telegraph).

While protecting trans pupils, trans teachers and trans support staff from harassment is a worthy aim, it’s clear that this proposal goes way beyond compliance with equalities law and would have the effect of rendering any challenge to gender critical ideology or the agenda of trans rights activists as a legitimate reason to sack a teacher. So much for trade unions protecting their members rights.

The NEU is effectively saying to all its dues-paying members that don’t want to go along with gender identity ideology that it regards them as transphobic and no longer wants to represent them or defend their rights. As member relations campaigns go, it’s certainly bold.

And what about the policy’s effect on staffrooms up and down the country? The Telegraph spoke to a whistleblower in the teaching union who is concerned that it will stop people speaking out on this issue. “I am extremely worried,” he told the paper. “I’m from a Left-wing background and I hate this nonsense. We need free speech. Women need safe spaces. If this definition is accepted, anyone who says: ‘You can’t logically self-identify as the opposite sex’, you’ll be a transphobe.” The source added: “I think it will mean that teachers will be too scared to speak up in schools and they will go along with the NEU policy.”

FSU Chairman’s Lecture on Decolonisation

The FSU’s Chairman, Professor Nigel Biggar, explained to a packed Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford last week why he believes the cultural revolutionary version of decolonisation is based on several false premises, starting with the claim that Britain is “systemically racist”. I was in the audience and thoroughly recommend you watch the YouTube video of this lecture (available here). The discussion afterwards with FSU Director Douglas Murray is also worth watching.

Sharing the newsletter

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 us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below and help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Kind regards,

Toby Young

Monthly Newsletter

FSU launches campaign against politically motivated financial censorship

On 15th September, PayPal notified me that it was permanently closing my personal account, as well as the accounts of the Daily Sceptic – a news publishing site I run – and the Free Speech Union. The reason cited in all three cases was that the accounts had violated PayPal’s ‘Acceptable Use Policy’. Not that that really gave any clue as to the specifics of the alleged misdemeanour, because the policy contains numerous prohibited activities including transactions involving illegal drugs and stolen goods.

PayPal told me it had permanently closed all three accounts and appeals in all three cases had been unsuccessful. It couldn’t quite decide why it had closed the accounts – it alternated between telling me I’d breached its policy about not promoting “hate, violence or racial intolerance” and telling newspapers my accounts had been closed because I was spreading “Covid-19 misinformation”. But it had definitely decided to close them.

My suspicion is that someone at PayPal simply doesn’t like my politics and had my accounts removed for that reason, without bothering to create a proper alibi. In other words, this was a prime example of someone being punished by a financial-services company for expressing non-conformist views and, in the case of the FSU, defending people for expressing such views.

That is completely unacceptable, obviously. And I’m not the only one. PayPal has closed numerous accounts because it dislikes the politics of the individuals or organisations linked to them, from Colin Wright, an evolutionary biologist who challenges trans rights dogma, to UsForThem, a group of mums that campaigned against school closures during the lockdowns. So I went to war with PayPal, appearing on GB News virtually every day to tell its viewers what had happened, writing about it in the Spectator, the Telegraph and Spiked, and encouraging MPs and peers to write to Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Business Secretary, and Mel Stride, the Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, urging them to hold PayPal to account.

Then, on 27th September, PayPal notified me it had restored all of my accounts. After ‘input’ from its ‘customers and stakeholders’– by which I suspect it meant all the people that had cancelled their PayPal accounts in solidarity with the Free Speech Union and the Daily Sceptic – it has decided I’m kosher after all.

It goes without saying that I won’t be using PayPal’s services again. I made the mistake of trusting PayPal when I set up the FSU, embedding its software into our payment processing systems. Given what I know now – that it can demonetise you on a whim, seemingly without any proper justification – I’m not going to make that mistake again.

The US company’s behaviour wasn’t some brief moment of madness — an inexplicable yet temporary deviation from standard financial practice. As we hurtle towards a cashless economy, it’s part of a global trend towards weaponising Big Tech and financial services systems to suppress dissent of every kind. We saw it most obviously in the case of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shutting down the Freedom Convoy earlier this year. But there are numerous examples of organisations with dissenting views being deplatformed by financial services companies, such as the U.K. Medical Freedom Alliance, an organisation that raises perfectly lawful questions about the Covid vaccines.

That’s why the FSU will now lobby the Government to develop a legislative mechanism capable of preventing Big Tech companies headquartered outside the U.K. from censoring people or groups in this country for the expression of legal but dissenting views (or, as in the case of the FSU, for simply defending those who express legal but dissenting views).

If there’s a positive to come out of this unseemly episode, it’s that the publicity generated by PayPal’s actions has brought the wider issue of financial censorship to the attention of both Houses of Parliament. The Telegraph reported that financial services companies could soon “be banned from blocking the accounts of campaign groups for political reasons”. That’s because Conservative backbenchers are apparently “considering launching an amendment” to a Parliamentary bill that would effectively ban companies from freezing campaigners’ accounts. One source quoted in that Telegraph article said that ministers are likely to accept an amendment. If that’s true, then this could be a big moment in the fightback against financial censorship. Needless to say, the FSU will be at the forefront of campaigning for that amendment.

But legislative work takes time, which means that we need to keep that pressure up, mobilising the extraordinary public opposition to PayPal’s recent behaviour to tell our politicians that we don’t want a Chinese-style social credit system to be rolled out across the West (the only difference being that instead of the Chinese Communist Party enforcing ideological dogma, it’s woke capitalist corporations based in California).

Use the FSU’s campaigning tool to write to your MP to remind him or her that there are strong feeling on this issue among the public. If you’re as outraged as we are by PayPal’s attempt to cancel the FSU and other groups, please use this tool to send a template email to your MP, telling him or her that we need a change to the law to make this kind of financial censorship illegal. The process only takes two minutes and the link is here.

If you’re not a member yet, please join the fight against these censorious financial services companies.

If you’re already a member, make a donation so we can devote the time and resources we need to win this battle. This the new front in the ongoing war against free speech and if we lose this one then free speech as we know will effectively be dead.

FSU member Simon Isherwood’s remedy hearing begins – a case update

Earlier this year, FSU member Simon Isherwood won his Employment Tribunal case against West Midlands Trains (WMT). The rail conductor was dismissed for gross misconduct after asking his wife whether indigenous populations in African countries enjoy ‘black privilege’ following a training session on ‘white privilege’ with around 80 other staff members via Teams. He thought he’d disconnected but he hadn’t and one of his colleagues complained. Instead of dismissing the complaint, WMT suspended him, investigated him and dismissed him for ‘gross misconduct’.

Taking your employer to an Employment Tribunal is a lengthy and costly process (Allison Bailey had to raise more than £500,000 to fund her much publicised recent legal case, for instance). Thanks to our help, though, Simon was able to hold WMT to account for its actions, and his hearing took place before Judge Stephen Wyeth in the Watford Employment Tribunal. In addition to paying Simon’s legal fees, the FSU drafted in leading civil rights barrister Paul Diamond to represent him. Paul has fought landmark cases in the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights, and as might be expected from someone of that calibre, was unrelenting in picking apart the other side’s evidence. He convinced the Judge that the freedom of speech issues in this case required close attention. Indeed, it was for that reason that the judge reserved judgment, rather than giving it extempore.

In a landmark victory, Judge Wyeth decided that Mr Isherwood had been unfairly dismissed. The judgement reasserted the fact that “freedom of expression, including a qualified right to offend when expressing views and beliefs (in this case on social issues), is a fundamental right in a democratic society”. Particularly important in terms of workers’ speech rights was the clear distinction the judgement drew between the public and the private sphere, noting that in Simon’s case, “the expression of his private view of the course to his wife in the confines of his own home was not blameworthy or culpable conduct that could amount to contributory conduct”.

This month, the remedy hearing to decide compensation began. Paul Diamond and our Chief Legal Counsel, Bryn Harris, are fighting hard on Simon’s behalf, and prospects are good that we’ll get a good settlement for Simon. That’s great news, but it’s a bittersweet victory. What we’re talking about here is an employee with an unblemished career track record who’s lost his livelihood simply because he voiced an entirely lawful opinion within the confines of his own home that woke activists just happen to regard as ‘offensive’.

No-one should ever be placed in that position, which is exactly why one strand of the FSU’s Parliamentary and lobbying work is now focused on persuading ministers and senior officials to amend the Employment Rights Act 1996 to make it impossible for companies to discipline staff for saying politically contentious things outside the workplace. You can watch me make the case for this amendment on GB News here. I’ve also written about it for the Mail here.  

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill – amendments tabled

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will soon resume its journey through Parliament in the House of Lords, and I’m delighted to report that several amendments have now been tabled to make it even stronger. The Bill aims to strengthen protections for free speech and academic freedom in English universities by imposing more robust legal duties on higher education providers to protect the free speech of academic staff, non-academic staff, students and visitors to universities, as well as to actively promote freedom of speech.

The FSU wholeheartedly supports the legislation. We’ve intervened in many cases involving students or academics where those individuals would have been in a stronger position had this new law been in place.

That said, unless the Bill’s current free speech ‘protections’ are strengthened there’s a danger they will be undermined by the open-ended definition of “harassment” contained within the Equality Act 2010, which doesn’t make exceptions for discussions that take place for scientific or academic purposes. In other words the Bill as currently proposed won’t be able to prevent higher education institutions from continuing to place limits on academic freedom by invoking their public sector equality duty under section 26 of the Equality Act to protect members of the university with certain characteristics from “harassment”. While that duty might sound uncontroversial, some universities define “harassment” so broadly as to encompass allowing people to express perfectly lawful points of view that some members of protected groups find objectionable. Back in 2019, for instance, two law professors – Rosa Freedman and Jo Phoenix – were no-platformed by Essex University on the grounds that inviting them on campus to argue that transwomen shouldn’t be treated as if they were legally indistinguishable from biological women would have constituted “harassment” of trans students.

This is the context in which the FSU has been working with allies in the House of Lords to develop an amendment capable of ensuring that – in the amendment paper’s words – “the duties imposed by the Bill are consistent with, and not overridden by, the Equality Act public sector equality duty”. You can read that amendment here.

We’re also hoping two other amendments are made to the Bill, which you can read here and here. We’re hopeful that all of these amendments will be accepted, and that the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill that reaches the statute books really is a game-changer for academic freedom and freedom of speech at English universities.

You can find our recent Parliamentary briefing on the Bill here, and our latest research papers here and here.

Gillian Philips – case update

Thanks to the generous support of FSU members and supporters, and the sterling work of Gillian’s legal team (Shah Qureshi of Irwin Mitchell and barrister David Mitchell), permission has now been granted for Gillian to bring her case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. Gillian will now have the chance to persuade a superior court of record that in writing novels under the close control of her publishers she was a worker, entitled to the protections of the Equality Act 2010. This is a timely opportunity to secure protection from discrimination for precarious workers in an increasingly intolerant sector.

FSU members and supporters may remember Gillian’s case. Gillian is the author who brought an Employment Tribunal claim against her former publishers, Working Partners and HarperCollins, because they terminated her contract to write children’s books after she stood up for JK Rowling on Twitter. She alleges unlawful discrimination and the case is a landmark in the fight for the right of women to state biological facts without fear of losing their jobs. Gender critical writers such as Kate Clanchy, Julie Burchill and Jenny Lindsay have all faced threats to their livelihood as a result of expressing gender critical views. 

An update on the FSU’s current caseload

Following our resounding victory against PayPal, we’ve seen an uptick in members of the public writing to alert us to similar cases. This includes Conservatives for Women, the campaign group we are currently assisting in their campaign to get their Ko-fi account reinstated after the fundraising service axed them because their gender critical views allegedly “target” and “undermine” trans people. This may well become a legal battle. If you or someone you know has been cut-off by a financial services company because of their views, do please get in touch ([email protected]).

The trans issue continues to take up about a quarter of the time of our case team, with victims silenced by advocates of gender ideology… unless we get there first. We have about 65 live cases open right now, of all kinds – and that doesn’t include the vast number of resolved cases where we’ve helped members in what are often extremely serious difficulties. Members seeking our assistance this month included teachers, civil servants, manual workers, academics and celebrities. The high number of cries for help our case team deals with makes a compelling argument for legislative change to protect free speech for employees and in universities. While most of our case work remains strictly confidential, we anticipate several cases becoming public this month. Be sure to read our weekly newsletter.

The start of the academic year typically brings a deluge of new cases, from students compelled to take ideological instruction disguised as diversity training, to academics chastised for a toe out of line in today’s intolerant academy. The FSU made major interventions last year to challenge these schemes (as here, for example), and we stand ready to assist any students currently resisting university administrators who haven’t yet got the message.

The FSU’s packed schedule of autumn events!

If you’re not yet a member of the FSU, we hope you’ll join the FSU so you can participate in our forthcoming Online Speakeasies. The first is with comedian, writer, actor and presenter Jack Dee on Wednesday 12th October and the second with historian, author and television presenter Neil Oliver on Wednesday 9th November. We also have our upcoming, members-only Christmas party at the Backyard Comedy Club. Members have been sent a separate email containing links to register for these events. If you have not received this, do check your inbox, including your junk folder, and get in touch if you can’t find it, using [email protected].

You can also see a calendar on our Events page. As that is a public page, you cannot book members-only events via that route, so do join the FSU today to access those invitations, along with all the other benefits of membership.

We have two excellent sessions at the Battle of Ideas Festival taking place in London on the weekend of the 15th and 16th of October. I will be speaking on a packed panel, debating Online Safety vs Free Speech on Saturday afternoon, and the Free Speech Champions will discuss Winning Young Hearts and Minds on Sunday afternoon, with panellists including Professor Alice Sullivan and Rod Liddle. Members can access special discount tickets (we’ll be sending you an email about that) and a link to register was also in last Friday’s newsletter. Do come and say hello to us at our stall, find out more about supporting the work we do and buy one of our new T-shirts, featuring the excellent work of cartoonist Bob Moran.

Roger Scruton Memorial Lectures – register for free tickets here!

Oxford University’s annual ‘Roger Scruton Memorial Lectures’ are fast approaching. All events are free to attend, although registration is required.

On 17th October, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission Katherine Birbalsingh CBE will be in conversation with the founder of the 30% club, Baroness Helena Morrissey, and Dr Marie Daouda (Oriel College, Oxford). Register here. On 19th October, one of Britain’s most distinguished historians, Andrew Roberts, will be in conversation with Professor Robert Tombs, now Professor Emeritus of French History at the University of Cambridge. Register here. On 24th October, journalist and writer Peter Hitchens will be in conversation with former Conservative MEP Lord Daniel Hannan and Professor Sir Noel Malcolm (All Souls College, Oxford). Register here. Finally, on 26th October, FSU Chairman Professor Nigel Biggar (Christ Church College, Oxford) will be in conversation with the Secretary of State for International Trade the Rt Hon Kemi Badenoch, and Professor Ali Ansari (University of St Andrews). Register here.

Sharing the newsletter

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 us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below and help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Kind regards,

Toby Young

Monthly Newsletter

FSU campaign pushed free speech to top of Tory leadership race agenda!

The Conservative Party leadership contest had only just started when the results of an independent opinion poll commissioned by the FSU were published. They showed that people in this country strongly support our five-point Free Speech Manifesto (available here). The headline finding was that only 2% of the public strongly agree that the Government is doing a good job of standing up for free speech. (Interestingly, that figure falls to just 1% among 25-49-year-olds).

In light of that poll, we decided to launch a campaign to get supporters who are also members of the Conservative Party to use our new campaigning tool to email the leadership candidates, and urge them to do more to protect free speech.

Last week the contest entered its final phase, as Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak completed their 12th and final hustings. With the ballot now closed, and the next leader of the Conservative Party – and country – to be announced today, it’s worth reflecting on just how successful the FSU’s first digitally enhanced campaign has been.

Our campaigning tool was used to send over 4,000 emails to the leadership candidates, and it’s clear from the tone and tenor of the contest that FSU members have helped catapult free speech issues that might otherwise have been overlooked to the forefront of contest.

The free speech commitments FSU members helped win from leadership contenders – a re-cap

Nowhere is the impact of the FSU’s campaign clearer than in the case of non-crime hate incidents (NCHIs). The email urged the two candidates to end the investigation and recording of NCHIs by the police.

During the campaign, Ms Truss – who will almost certainly be crowned Prime Minister later today – unveiled plans to ban police training focused on identity politics and to reduce the time officers spend investigating trivial online comments. Drilling down into policy specifics, Ms Truss went on to say that as Prime Minister she would make sure the NCHI code of practice that the next Home Secretary will issue (thanks to an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 that the FSU worked on, details of which you can read about here) will robustly defend free speech.

Rishi Sunak also made clear that “our police forces must be fully focused on fighting actual crime in people’s neighbourhoods and not policing bad jokes” (Telegraph). A spokesperson for Mr Sunak took this commitment a little further than Ms Truss with the suggestion that “on NCHIs we don’t need a code of practice”. Things “are either illegal or legal”, he said, and because “free speech is legal” it follows that “the police should not be wasting time getting involved, and they won’t in a Rishi Sunak Government” (GB News).

It seems unlikely that this esoteric policing technique would have become such a prominent issue in the leadership contest were it not for the sheer weight of FSU-inspired emails pinging into candidates’ inboxes over the past eight weeks.

Another issue the email urged candidates to commit to was ditching those clauses in the Online Safety Bill that pose a threat to freedom of expression. During the first few weeks of the contest, both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss expressed reservations about the Bill’s likely impact on free speech. As the campaign wore on, those reservations crystallised into firm policy pledges, with both candidates making clear they will either scrap or significantly amend clause 13 of the Bill, which aims to regulate so-called ‘legal but harmful’ content.

Mr Sunak also spoke in favour of another Free Speech Manifesto commitment, namely, amending the Equality Act 2010 so it cannot be misused to push an ideological agenda and degrade liberal values – one of the five points in our Free Speech Manifesto. In response to a student who stood up during the Manchester hustings to tell how his college had reprimanded him for posting messages on Twitter in support of the Government’s Rwanda deal, the former Chancellor said: “I want to change the public sector equality duty so that universities are ‘forced’ to uphold free speech on campus” (Metro).

What does the FSU want from the next Prime Minister?

It’s encouraging to see that both candidates have addressed the FSU’s concerns regarding the Equality Act 2010 and the Orwellian ‘thought policing’ tool that is the non-crime hate incident report. What we need from the next Prime Minister are similarly robust commitments to engage with the other issues raised in our Free Speech Manifesto.

On workers’ rights, for instance, we want to see new workplace speech rights introduced and existing legal protections strengthened to ensure employees cannot be disciplined or sacked for refusing to attend diversity training courses or declare their gender pronouns.

On education, we want to see an end to the political indoctrination of children in schools.

On the legislative front, we want to see the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill progress on to the statute books so that free speech and academic freedom are better protected on campus, and we want to see freedom of expression given a preeminent place in the new Bill of Rights Bill so that artists, novelists, dancers, poets, playwrights and comedians can speak truth to power without fear of being cancelled.

Finally, on the “censor’s charter” that is the Online Safety Bill, we want to see the next Prime Minster do more to protect free speech online. It’s great that both candidates have committed to looking again at clause 13 of the Bill, but there are other aspects of the Bill that also pose a threat to free speech.

At present, for instance, it requires providers like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to remove in every part of the United Kingdom content that’s illegal in any part of the United Kingdom. So if something is illegal to say in Scotland, but not in the rest of the UK, the big social media companies would have to remove it in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Do we really want to empower Nicola Sturgeon to dictate what the entire British population is allowed to see and say online? That seems insane, particularly as Scotland has just passed the Hate Crime and Public Order Act – a piece of legislation that will make it illegal to say a large number of things that are currently lawful to say in the rest of the UK. (FSU Scottish Advisory Council member Jamie Gillies describes the Act as an “authoritarian mess”.)

With the Online Safety Bill set to return to Parliament, it’s going to be more important than ever to keep up the pressure on legislators over the coming months. Now that the leadership contest is over, one very effective way for members to do so will be to use our website’s template email generator to write to their MP and ask that he or she look again at the Bill (the campaigning tool is here).

The FSU is hiring – Legislative Affairs Director

In the last year, the FSU has seen sister organisations set up in the US, New Zealand and South Africa, with further expansion to come. We have an exciting journey ahead and we’re looking for talented individuals to join our organisation. As we expand our parliamentary work, we’re looking for a Legislative Affairs Director. (Full details here.) This individual will help drive our lobbying, campaigning and advocacy work, with a view to strengthening legislative protections of free speech, seeing off legislative challenges to free speech and persuading ministers and senior officials to protect free speech through mechanisms like, for instance, departmental guidance. If you’re committed to the defence of free speech and freedom of expression and have experience of working with parliamentarians and government officials to influence policy, lobbying and campaigning, overseeing submissions to public consultations and inquiries, and helping to steer bills through parliament and amending existing bills, then we’d like to hear from you. In the first instance, please send a CV and introductory letter to: [email protected].

The FSU publishes its new briefing paper on the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

It’s all but certain that the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will resume its journey through Parliament once Liz Truss has been sworn in as the new Prime Minister. The Bill is designed to strengthen protections for free speech and academic freedom in English universities, and my view is that it cannot be passed soon enough. The FSU gets about a dozen requests for help each week from university students or academics who have got into trouble for exercising their lawful right to free speech, and in almost every case the individuals in question would have been in a stronger position to fight back had this new legislation been in place.

Back in July, the Bill had its second reading in the House of Lords, and while it was heartening to see the Free Speech Union’s casework and policy briefings getting referenced during the debate (interventions you can watch on our Twitter channel here), it was a little disappointing to see various unfounded criticisms of the Bill being aired. Of course, like any legislation the Bill can be improved, but many of the criticisms at second reading relied on common misunderstandings of the problems facing English universities and are easily rebutted.

It’s for that reason that the FSU’s Chief Legal Counsel, Dr Bryn Harris, has been working with Professors Arif Ahmed (University of Cambridge), Nigel Biggar (University of Oxford), Eric Kaufmann (Birkbeck College, London), and Doug Stokes (University of Exeter) – all members of our Advisory Council – to prepare an FSU briefing note in which the principal criticisms raised by peers are answered. (The Hansard record of the second reading debate can be found here.)

The FSU is anxious to ensure that further debate of the Bill is informed by relevant evidence of the free speech problem at English universities, and strong arguments for how it can be resolved. That’s why we’re now circulating this briefing to allies in both Houses of Parliament. Over the next few weeks – hopefully not months! – we’re looking forward to engaging with those allies to make sure that the free speech protections contained in the Bill are as robust as possible.

The briefing note is here. You can find our previous briefings on the Bill here and here.

The letter I sent in my capacity as FSU General Secretary to the then Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, and the Minister for Universities, Michelle Donelan, thanking them for introducing two essential amendments to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill that we campaigned for is here, as is the response we received from the new Education Secretary, James Cleverly, thanking us for the support we’ve given the Bill.

Our next online event – Teaching tolerance: Understanding free speech issues in schools

The FSU’s schedule of online and in-person events for September to December kicks off on Tuesday 13th September with an Online In-Depth on free speech in schools. I’ll be chairing the event, and, unlike our usual members-only events, this one will be open to anyone who is interested in this issue – so please feel free to share the details with anyone you think might be interested. You can register here to receive the Zoom link.  

Our panel of experts includes anti-racist campaigner Adrian Hart of Don’t Divide Us, critic of gender ideology and co-founder of Conservatives for Women, Caroline Ffiske, and Clare Page, a London parent who raised the alarm over highly politicised teaching materials being used at her child’s school. The common thread uniting our panellists is the fact that they are all campaigning for the right of parents to access and challenge ideologically driven teaching materials in English schools.

One issue I’m particularly looking forward to discussing with the panel is why free speech issues crop up so frequently now in primary and secondary schools. There have obviously long been clashes over sex education, often pitting religious parents against their children’s schools, but in recent years we’ve seen a marked increase in instances of parents and schools coming into conflict over the interpretation of more secular values such as ‘anti-racism’ and ‘inclusivity’, and even over the teaching of history, literature and biology. Many of the parents that contact the FSU for advice on these issues are concerned that the range of views considered up for debate within schools is too narrow and that, as a result, there may be repercussions, from teachers or pupils, should they or their children ever dare to question beliefs that are currently fashionable.

The FSU’s packed schedule of events this autumn!

Our packed schedule of Autumn events programme will be emailed to members on Wednesday 7th September, so do look out for that (and let [email protected] know if you don’t receive it). If you aren’t yet a member, being part of our exclusive online and in-person events and getting to interact with guest speakers like Joanna Williams, Douglas Murray, Quentin Letts, Baroness Fox of Buckley, Helen Joyce and Professor Kathleen Stock is a great reason to join.

Upcoming members-only events include a live, in-person launch of Andrew Doyle’s brilliant new book The New Puritans: How the Religion of Social Justice Captured the Western World. The comedian, author, and presenter of GB News’s Free Speech Nation will join me on-stage in London on 27th September to discuss how we can push back against cancel culture and start reinstating liberal democratic values. There’ll be plenty of time for an audience Q&A, as well as for audience members to purchase signed copies of The New Puritans. Technology permitting, we’re hoping to livestream this event for members who can’t attend in person – we’ll be in touch about that in due course. The event will be followed by a members-only launch party of the book.

I’m also delighted to announce that on 12th October I’ll be joined in conversation at an exclusive Online Speakeasy by stand-up comedian, actor, writer and presenter Jack Dee. You can watch Jack’s video message inviting you to the event by clicking here. This, too, is a members-only event.

Members will also be offered discount tickets to the Battle of Ideas Festival 2022 (15th and 16th October). During that event, I’ll be speaking on a panel the FSU is sponsoring on the Online Safety Bill. The Free Speech Champions will also be partnering on a session about how young people can be persuaded to join the defence of freedom of speech. 

On 5th October we’ll be holding our second Online Annual Convention. This event is exclusively for Gold and Founder members, so do consider joining now as a Gold member or upgrading your current membership package (full instructions will be provided in Wednesday’s Events email). The Convention affords senior staff and the Directors of the FSU the opportunity to thank members for their continuing support and to report back on highlights from the past year – e.g., legal victories, case-work successes and the impact our behind-the-scenes legislative and policy work is having. It’s also a great opportunity for Gold and Founder members to participate in a Q&A where they get to have their say about the work we’re doing.

An update on the FSU’s current caseload

High profile university cases tend to capture the media headlines – only this month, for instance, the case of an FSU member at the University of Sheffield was reported in the Telegraph, while the legal action another FSU member is bringing against the BIMM Institute received widespread media attention (Mail, Spiked, Telegraph, Times). Unfortunately, that’s just the tip of a rather large iceberg. Much of the FSU’s casework takes place beyond the higher education sector, and this month we’ve been assisting members drawn from all walks of life, including NHS clinicians, cleaners, police officers, parents, and countless employees of private businesses in a huge variety of sectors.

We get an average of 50 requests for help a week and at any one time we’ll have around 100 cases on the go. These are cases where people have been punished, sacked, bullied, harassed, investigated, or disciplined for speaking their mind – or because a colleague prowled through their personal social media profiles in an effort to find ‘offensive’ material. In a typical week the case team will be kept busy drafting letters to employers to shut down sham investigations, advising members about the rules and procedures governing internal investigations, and counselling people through what are always extremely stressful situations.

Because of the privacy concerns at stake we can’t always publicise our successes, but this month, armed with our handy FAQs, members have succeeded in challenging the pronoun policies creeping into work places, reminding bosses that employees have the right to their own opinions. Each small battle like this is part of a broader fightback for free speech, and case by case we’re working to end the stifling culture that’s engulfed many workplaces.

General fighting fund

This month we’ve helped people from all walks of life, with cases ranging from people being kicked off social media for questioning gender ideology, to members losing their jobs and livelihoods for comments made outside of work. People contact us every week who never imagined they’d need our support. Help us to help them: if you can, please donate to our general fighting fund.

Sharing the newsletter

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 us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below and help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Kind regards,

Toby Young

Monthly Newsletter

FSU member Simon Isherwood wins landmark free speech victory for workers all over the country

Simon Isherwood

With the FSU’s help, Simon Isherwood won his Employment Tribunal case against West Midlands Trains (WMT) last week. The rail conductor was dismissed last year for gross misconduct after asking whether indigenous populations in African countries enjoy ‘black privilege’ following a training session on ‘white privilege’ with around 80 other staff members via Teams. At the end of the session, Simon accidentally left his microphone on and was overheard telling his wife: “I couldn’t be arsed because I thought, ‘You know what, I’ll just get f***ing angry.’ You know what I really wanted to ask? … and I wish I had, ‘Do they have black privilege in other countries? So, if you’re in Ghana? …’”

Despite making these comments in his home when he had a reasonable expectation of privacy, Simon was suspended from duty that same day. After an internal disciplinary probe, WMT sacked Mr Isherwood, claiming the comments “caused offence, brought the company into disrepute and breached our equality, diversity and inclusion policy and the code of conduct”. As reported by the TelegraphMailGB NewsReclaim the Net and Zero Hedge, the hearing took place on 5th and 6th May before Judge Stephen Wyeth in the Watford Employment Tribunal. In addition to paying Simon’s legal fees, the FSU drafted in leading civil civil rights barrister Paul Diamond to represent him. Paul has fought landmark cases in the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights, and, as might be expected from someone of that calibre, was unrelenting in picking apart the other side’s evidence. He convinced the Judge that the freedom of speech issues in this case required close attention. Indeed, it was for that reason that the judge reserved judgment, rather than giving it extempore.

In a landmark victory for free speech, Judge Wyeth declared last week that Mr Isherwood was unfairly dismissed. In a ruling handed down on Tuesday – and picked up by Breitbart, the Epoch Times, MailOnline, the print edition of the Mail, Mail+, the print edition of the Telegraph and Reclaim the Net – the Tribunal found that Simon’s comments did not constitute misconduct, that he did not bring his employer into disrepute, and that “on any reasonable view, the degree of culpability on the part of the claimant was extremely limited”. “In essence,” the ruling continued, his only misconduct was failing to log off from Teams after the training session had ended. The Judge went on to make clear that “[h]owever contentious or odious some might regard the claimant’s comments to be, the expression of his private view of the course to his wife in the confines of his own home was not blameworthy or culpable conduct that could amount to contributory conduct”.

In relation to WMT, Judge Wyeth found that the company “adopted a rigid and blinkered approach to the issue of sanction and certainly did not test or explore the appropriateness of alternatives to dismissal with the claimant in any way”. As to “the crux of this case”, namely whether the decision to dismiss “fell within the band of reasonable responses of a reasonable employer”, the judge stated that he was “in no doubt that it did not”.

As noted, Mr Isherwood’s barrister, Paul Diamond, convinced Judge Wyeth that WMT breached Simon’s speech rights, as the judgement makes clear: “Freedom of expression, including a qualified right to offend when expressing views and beliefs (in this case on social issues), is a fundamental right in a democratic society and one that is protected by the Convention rights under the Human Rights Act 1998. In this instance however there is the added significance that these views were being expressed in the privacy of the claimant’s home to his wife. They were never intended to be heard by those who attended or ran the course… Whilst undoubtedly contentious, the remarks he expressed (albeit in an unguarded fashion because they were made to his wife) were akin to expressions of views not infrequently heard on radio and television or read in some newspapers.” A date for a remedy hearing to decide compensation, which is likely to be a five-figure sum, or whether Mr Isherwood can have his job back, has yet to be set.

The FSU’s Chief Legal Counsel, Dr Bryn Harris, described the ruling as “a tremendous victory for Simon and for free speech. The judge could not have been clearer – it is not reasonable or lawful to dismiss employees for expressing their own private views, including in relation to training about company ‘values’. Simon showed huge moral courage in standing up against this appalling mistreatment – in doing so he has won a victory for workers all over the country.”

Speaking to the Mail+ Mr Isherwood said, “The only thing that’s kept me going is the support of my family, friends, colleagues, the FSU and my barrister, Paul Diamond — all those who know the real me. They’ve never doubted me or believed I could ever do what I was being accused of. That means the world to me.”

I’m delighted for Simon, but he should never have been put in this position. Too many employers think that saying something that woke activists deem to be ‘offensive’, even if it comes nowhere near to being unlawful, is grounds for dismissal. It isn’t, as the judge in this case has made clear. Forget about diversity training for employees. What we need is free speech training for employers.

The FSU launches its five-point free speech manifesto

The Free Speech Union Manifesto

We’ve identified our top five policy commitments for the next Prime Minister, and this month we’ve been asking Conservative party members to reach out to Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak with the aid of our new campaigning tool to see where they stand on each of these issues. After all, one of them will be our next Prime Minister and this could be our best chance of extracting a commitment from them that they’ll do everything in their power to defend free speech when they’re in 10 Downing Street.

So far, nearly 4,000 emails have now been sent by our members and supporters over the course of the Conservative leadership campaign. Thanks to the pressure they have been able to exert using this new tool, free speech issues that might have been overlooked have been forced to the forefront of the contest.

Last weekend, for instance, Rishi Sunak attempted to revive his faltering campaign by attacking “woke nonsense”. As reported in the Evening Standard, Mr Sunak said during a speech in West Sussex that he was determined to “protect British freedoms” if he becomes Prime Minister. He then pledged to review the 2010 Equality Act and clarify that gender self-identification does not have legal force, strengthen statutory guidance for schools on how they teach issues of sex and relationships so that pupils are “shielded from inappropriate material”, and protect free speech by amending the Public Sector Equality Duty to “put a stop to practices such as no-platforming” and ensure that organisations “are open and welcoming” to people with differing political opinions and religious and philosophical world views.

I welcome Rishi Sunak’s proposals for “protect[ing] British freedoms” that speak so directly to the issues outlined in our free speech manifesto. He’s right to think these positions are popular – not just among Conservative Party members, but with the general public. This month we commissioned Professor Matt Goodwin to do some polling for us and we published the results here. The headlines are:

When asked whether they agree or disagree with the statement ‘The Government is doing a good job of protecting free speech’, only two per cent say they ‘completely agree’, with 12% saying they ‘somewhat agree’. Among 25–49-year-olds, the number who completely agree falls to just one per cent.

On the Online Safety Bill, which the FSU has been campaigning against, 45% of respondents think that social media companies should not remove or restrict lawful speech, while just 14% think they should.

Fifty-six per cent of people agree with our proposal that free speech should be included among the British values taught in schools, with only seven per cent disagreeing.

The public is broadly supportive of our proposal that there should be stronger legal protections for workers’ rights so employees cannot be disciplined for refusing to take a diversity training course, with 34% agreeing and 26% disagreeing.

On Non-Crime Hate Incidents, 33% agree that investigating people for ‘non-crimes’ takes the police away from more important work, and 29% disagree.

Whatever you think of Rishi Sunak, if you support free speech, you should welcome his attack on “woke nonsense” and his pledge to defend “British freedoms”. Now we just need Liz Truss to make a similar commitment to promoting free speech – although she has already urged the police to spend less time investigating politically incorrect posts on social media and more time on solving real crimes. If you’re a member of the Conservative Party, please take two minutes to email both candidates, using our campaigning tool, and urge them to support our manifesto. If you’re a member of the Conservative Party and you’ve already used the tool, remember that the template can be tweaked to accommodate whatever free speech issues you’d now like to raise with the candidates.

FSU-backed amendment to the Online Safety Bill Accepted by the Government

Adam Afriyie MP

The FSU, along with other civil liberties groups, is deeply concerned about the Online Safety Bill (you can read our briefing documents herehere and here). For the Government to try to suppress ‘legal but harmful’ content is a breach of a fundamental principle of English Common Law, which is that unless something is explicitly prohibited by law then it is permitted. Moreover, each successive government will be able to add more and more things to this list, creating an anti-free speech ratchet effect.

That’s why during the first week of July, with the bill at a ‘hair’s breadth’ away from the statute book, we wrote to all FSU members and supporters urging them to use our website’s new online campaigning tool to write to their MPs and ask them to urge the Government to postpone the Parliamentary passage of the Bill so the new leader would have a chance to review it (the page is here). The Bill was then at report stage and scheduled to be debated one last time in the Commons before moving to the Lords when we pressed the ‘send’ button on that request for support. The following day, the Government announced the Bill would, indeed, be held over – making it one of the most successful campaigns we’ve ever waged. The FSU believes that in the circumstances it was the right thing to do. This is a complicated, far-reaching piece of legislation that will have a huge impact on what people can (and can’t) say online, and it was surely madness to try to railroad it through while a leadership contest was taking place.

Will the temporary postponement quietly segue into complete abandonment? Much now depends on the focus of our next Prime Minister. If Nadine Dorries is to be believed, the candidate she’s supporting for Party leader, Liz Truss, wants to continue with the Bill ‘as is’ if she becomes Prime Minister (Times), while Rishi Sunak has talked about there being a need to “refine” the legislation (Spectator). My guess is that, sadly, we’ll see the Bill back before Parliament in the Autumn, but probably in some watered-down form.

The fact that it has been delayed is, nevertheless, great news. It provides organisations like the FSU with valuable additional time to keep up the pressure on legislators. Some MPs have already raised concerns about the Bill, including David Davis, Steve Baker and Sir Graham Brady. If members and supporters of the FSU continue to use our new campaigning tool to write to their local MPs, many more will join them. Just click here, copy and paste our template email and send it to your MP, whose contact details our tool can find automatically. It only takes two minutes.

In the meantime, the FSU is looking forward to engaging with the FSU’s allies in both chambers of Parliament to ensure that any final version of the Bill includes much more robust protections for freedom of speech and expression. We have form in this regard, too. Just before the Bill’s progress through parliament was suspended, for instance, several FSU-backed amendments reached the report stage amendment paper and were introduced on the floor of the House of Commons by Adam Afriyie MP.

We’ve been working with Adam on these changes for some time and if the Bill does return we’re hopeful that some of these amendments will be accepted. The Government has accepted one already. Adam tabled an amendment which would make it clear to online providers that they don’t have to do anything about content the Government has designated “legal but harmful”. If they choose, they can just do nothing. And a day later, the Government accepted this amendment – a huge step forward. You can watch Adam introduce all the amendments here, here and here.

The FSU receives a response from the Secretary of State for Education

Back in June, I wrote to the then Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, and the Minister for Universities, Michelle Donelan, to thank them for introducing two essential amendments to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill that we campaigned for – removing the caveat “within their field of expertise” from Clause 1, so the new free speech protections apply to academics regardless of whether their speaking or writing about something within their field of expertise or not, and making it harder for “security costs” to be cited by universities or student unions to justify no-platforming a controversial speaker. We’ve now received a reply from the new Education Secretary, the Rt Hon. James Cleverly MP, thanking us for the support we have given the Bill. You can read our original letter and the Secretary of State’s reply here. Over the next few weeks, we’re looking forward to engaging with the FSU’s allies in both chambers of Parliament to ensure that the final version of the Bill includes even more robust protections for freedom of speech and academic freedom.

The long, slow death of non-crime hate incidents

Army veteran Darren Brady, arrested for posting an ‘offensive’ meme on Facebook

We were partly responsible for another victory last week when the College of Policing unveiled its new guidance on the investigation and recording of non-crime hate incidents (NCHIs), advising the police to exercise more common sense and not intervene in “trivial or irrational” online incidents simply because someone is offended. Earlier this year, the FSU worked with Lord Moylan and other peers on an amendment to the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill that would have put an end to the practice of recording NCHIs in such a way that they can show up in an enhanced criminal record check. That amendment was withdrawn when the Government agreed to make its own amendment granting the Home Secretary the option to produce statutory guidance (a “code of practice”) on the recording and retention of personal data relating to NCHIs. Following the passing of that Bill, the Home Office has said the Secretary of State will go ahead and issue this guidance, so the reason the College of Policing has issued new interim guidance is partly to get out in front of this new statutory guidance.

Unfortunately, Hampshire Police didn’t get the memo – and last week dispatched five officers to arrest Darren Brady, an army veteran who’d reposted a meme created by Laurence Fox depicting the Pride flag as a swastika in an unsubtle attempt to highlight the authoritarian way in which the LGBTQ+ agenda is sometimes promoted. Fox himself hasn’t been investigated by the police for posting this meme on Twitter and nor has the Daily Mail for reproducing it. But when Mr Brady posted it on Twitter, someone complained to the police and they duly arrested him. As one officer told him when he was being handcuffed: “Someone has been caused anxiety based on your social media post. That is why you have been arrested.”

It wasn’t just Mr Brady who was arrested. When he asked for help from Harry Miller – the ex-copper who took Humberside Police to court when he was investigated for retweeting a comic verse about trans women and won – Harry took off for Hampshire, stood outside Darren’s house and tried to prevent the police arresting him, pointing out that he hadn’t broken the law. The officers responded by arresting Harry as well. (You can read an article in the Daily Sceptic by FSU co-founder Ian Rons about the incident here.)

But I doubt either Darren or Harry will be charged. Donna Miller, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire, issued a statement shortly after the double arrest condemning her officers’ conduct. “When incidents on social media receive not one but two visits from police officers, but burglaries and non-domestic break-ins don’t always get a police response, something is wrong,” she said.

Let’s hope the combination of the new statutory guidance from the Home Secretary and Harry Miller’s continuing heroics spell the end of NCHIs.

FSU research suggests little public appetite for new Hate Crime Bill in Northern Ireland

Following Judge Desmond Marrinan’s Independent Review of Hate Crime legislation in Northern Ireland, the NI Department of Justice set up a public consultation process to “inform the development of a Hate Crime Bill”, as the Belfast News Letter put it this week. The consultation ended on 28th March, although policy makers surely must take into account the findings from a new opinion poll carried out by LucidTalk on behalf of the Free Speech Union. The headline news is that there’s little public appetite for a Hate Bill in Northern Ireland and considerable anxiety that it would have a chilling effect on free speech: 81% of respondents said they have not been a victim of a hate crime in the last 12 months; 79% felt that some people being offended some of the time is a price worth paying for freedom of speech, and when asked whether they think people being too easily offended is a problem in Northern Ireland, only 10% said it isn’t a problem, with 44% saying it’s a major problem.

Just as concerning is the finding that the Bill would likely exacerbate sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland and endanger the peace process. Our poll revealed a significant gulf in the attitude of nationalists and unionists towards the proposed legislation: 85% of Sinn Féin voters supported more severe punishment for crimes motivated by hatred of a victim’s protected characteristics, compared to just 44% of DUP voters; 90% of DUP respondents felt less free to express their personal beliefs than they were 10 years ago, compared to just 43% of Sinn Féin voters; and 85% of Sinn Féin voters supported more severe punishment for crimes motivated by hatred of a victim’s protected characteristics compared to just 44% of DUP voters. What’s particularly worrying is that the Bill would make some forms of sectarianism a hate crime – and DUP voters think they’re much more likely to get into trouble for saying something which is misinterpreted as ‘hate speech’ (83%) than Sinn Féin voters (35%).

The FSU writes to Lancaster City Council regarding the no-platforming of Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown

Roy ’Chubby’ Brown

We’ve written to the Leader of Lancaster City Council, Councillor Jackson, urging her to reconsider the cancellation of Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown’s forthcoming performance in Morecambe. As the Mail reported earlier this month, the controversial 77-year-old comedian was due to perform at a council-run venue in August, but the show was cancelled after a total of 59 people signed a petition calling for Chubby Brown to be no-platformed.

As we pointed out in our letter, the FSU take no view on Chubby Brown’s comedy routine, just as we do not advocate for specific points of view. What we do believe, however, is that unless laws are being broken, as opposed to some people finding something distasteful, members of the general public are mature enough to make up their own minds on what they wish to watch, read or listen to. The Lancaster Post and Lancs Live have both now reported on the FSU’s intervention and we hope that this local press coverage will encourage Lancaster Council to do the right thing and allow the people of Morecambe to decide for themselves whether Chubby Brown’s set is worth the price of a ticket or not. You can read our letter in full here.

Maureen Martin and the case for amending the Employment Rights Act 1996

Maureen Martin’s election leaflet

The FSU is campaigning for an amendment to the Employment Rights Act 1996 to make it impossible for companies to discipline staff for saying non-woke things outside of the workplace. The case of Maureen Martin demonstrates exactly why that change is needed. As I explained on GB News (and also in the Mail), Maureen was fired from her job at housing association L&Q because she said things about marriage that some people judged politically incorrect. Ms Martin was campaigning to become mayor of Lewisham in South-East London when she published a ‘six-point plan’ of action that was posted to the borough’s 205,000 registered voters. One of those six points expressed the orthodox Christian view that “natural marriage between a man and a woman is the fundamental building block for a successful society, and the safest environment for raising children”. Sensing an opportunity, local LGBT activists eagerly moved in for the cancel, reproducing an image of her leaflet on Twitter, accusing her of ‘hate speech’ and demanding she be dismissed. Despite an unblemished 13-year-record, her employer duly obliged, sacking Maureen for breaching the company’s social-media policy and bringing L&Q into disrepute. Needless to say, L&Q is a member of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme.

As FSU Deputy Director Ben Jones pointed out – also on GB News – the details may differ, but the pattern is becoming very common: “This week alone, we have more than 80 live cases where we are helping people in situations like Maureen’s, where they’ve lost their job for expressing often very mild views.” Last year, for instance, we helped Jeremy Sleath, who’d been fired by West Midlands Trains for celebrating the reopening of the pubs on ‘Freedom Day’ by saying on Facebook that he didn’t want to live in a ‘Muslim alcohol-free caliphate’ for the rest of his life. It didn’t matter that he’d said it outside the workplace on a personal account. Like Maureen, he was dismissed for breaching social-media policy and bringing the company into disrepute. With our help, Jeremy fought back in court and got a judgement of ‘unfair dismissal’ – just like Simon Isherwood.

The organisation Christian Concern is currently helping Maureen take legal action against L&Q, and I suspect they’ll be equally successful, not least because under the Equality Act 2010 expressions of religion or belief are protected, meaning you cannot be fired for expressing an orthodox religious view, however distasteful some might find it. That said, taking your employer to an Employment Tribunal is a lengthy and costly process. (Allison Bailey had to raise more than £500,000 to fund her recent legal case, for example.) That’s why we believe the Employment Rights Act needs amending to make it impossible for employers to sack employees who say something lawful outside the workplace. Something else we’d like to see is a statute of limitations on what people can be investigated for even if they say it in the workplace. In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of what the author Freddie deBoer has called “offence archaeology”, with people going back many years to try and find things people have said that are supposedly offensive in order to get them disciplined, sacked or cancelled. (TelegraphSpikedSpectator). Like libel and slander, we’d like to see a 12-month statute of limitations on what you can be investigated for.

General fighting fund

This month we’ve helped people from all walks of life, with cases ranging from people being kicked off social media for questioning gender ideology, to members losing their jobs and livelihoods for comments made outside of work. People contact us every week who never imagined they’d need our support. Help us to help them: if you can, please donate to our general fighting fund.

Sharing the newsletter

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 us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below to help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Kind regards,

Toby Young

Help us make free speech an issue in the Conservative leadership campaign

Apologies for contacting you again a day after sending you our weekly newsletter. However, I wanted to let you know about the results of an independent opinion poll commissioned by the FSU which shows the public strongly support our five-point manifesto. CLICK HERE to read the press release and see the manifesto. The headline finding is that only two per cent of the public strongly agree that the Government is doing a good job of standing up for free speech. Among 25-49 year-olds, that number falls to one per cent.

In light of our poll, we’re asking those members and supporters of ours that are also members of the Conservative Party to write to the five candidates remaining in the leadership race, urging them to do more to protect free speech. If you’re a Conservative Party member, CLICK HERE to use our new campaigning tool to send the candidates an email. We have created a template and you’re welcome to use that, or feel free to adapt it.

The first time we used this tool was on Tuesday, when we urged our members and supporters to write to their MP asking for the Online Safety Bill to be held over until the Autumn when a new Prime Minister is in place. The following day, the Government announced that the Bill would, indeed, be held over – making it one of the most successful campaigns we’ve ever waged.

A big thank you to all of you who wrote to their MP earlier in the week. Let’s hope that if enough Conservative Party members now contact the five leadership candidates and urge them to stand up for free speech, our second campaign will be equally successful.

Kind regards,

Toby Young

General Secretary

Stop Online Censorship

The Free Speech Union, along with other civil liberties groups, is deeply concerned about the Online Safety Bill. For the Government to try to suppress ‘legal but harmful’ content is a breach of a fundamental principle of English Common Law, which is that unless something is explicitly prohibited by law then it is permitted. Moreover, each successive government will be able to add more and more things to this list, creating an anti-free speech ratchet effect.

We urge you to write to your MP asking him or her to rethink this Bill. At the very least, MPs could ask the current Government to hold it over until the Autumn when there will be a new Government in place. This is a complicated, far-reaching piece of legislation that will have a huge impact on what we can say online and it’s madness to rush it through when a leadership contest is taking place. Some MPs have already raised concerns about the Bill, including David Davis, Steve Baker and Sir Graham Brady. With your help, many more will join them. Please send your MP an email today.

We have just launched an online tool that makes this quick and easy. Just click on the link below, enter your postcode on the page it takes you to and then send the email as written or adapt it to stress things you’re particularly concerned about. Thanks in advance for your help.

The link is here: Contact Your Local MP – The Free Speech Union

Kind regards,

Toby Young,

General Secretary.

Monthly Newsletter

Free Speech Union challenges chief constables over Lady of Heaven failures

On 3rd June, The Lady of Heaven, an independent film about the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed, was released in cinemas across the UK, including at venues owned by Cineworld, Showcase and Vue and immediately prompted noisy protests. The Bolton Council of Mosques called the film “blasphemous”, the Muslim Council of Britain described the film as “divisive”, and the UK Muslim website 5Pillars called the film “pure, unadulterated filth”. Cinemas in Bradford, Leeds, Sheffield, Bolton, Blackburn, Birmingham and Stratford were targeted by aggressive protests from some Muslims demanding the film not be screened.

Cineworld subsequently pulled The Lady of Heaven from all its venues, and, shortly after, Showcase followed suit.

The Free Speech Union has written to four chief constables about their failure to uphold people’s right to see The Lady of Heaven. We’ve published one of them on our website – to the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, John Robins QPM, concerning the protests in Bradford and Leeds (which were among the most intimidating in the country). The others we’ve written to are the chief constables of South Yorkshire Police, West Midlands Police and Greater Manchester Police.

There are serious legal issues at stake here, and the letter is well worth a read. In brief, for the reasons set out in detail in the letter, we believe these police forces failed to meet their lawful obligations to police the protests proportionately, and thereby secure the right of local people to see the film, as well as the right of the film’s producers to show their film, and the right of Cineworld and Showcase to screen the film. Specifically, we believe that these forces breached the Article 10 rights of the cinema chains, who wished to show the film, and of the cinema-goers, who wished to see the film.

We further believe it would be open to those parties to bring proceedings against these police forces under section 7 of the Human Rights Act and we will provide such assistance as we deem reasonable to any party that seeks our help in bringing such proceedings. In advance of any pre-action letter under the pre-action protocol for judicial review, which will trigger a duty of candour, we have requested a response from the chief constables to a series of questions no later than 13th July.

Hatun Tash arrested

While we’re on the subject of the police’s failure to uphold free speech, Hatun Tash, the evangelical Christian preacher and FSU member, was arrested at Speakers’ Corner last Sunday, the third time she’s been arrested in two years. A large number of officers were involved, and she was forcibly removed from the scene with her arms held behind her back. Hatun was then taken to Charing Cross police station, strip searched, interviewed, kept overnight in a cell and then released without charge.

To cap it all, the day she was released – Monday, 27th June – was the 150th anniversary of Speakers’ Corner. We have written to the Acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Stephen House, asking him to justify this appalling treatment and, if he cannot, to apologise to Hatun. We’ve also put the following questions to the Acting Commissioner: First, has any investigation been undertaken into the robbery that Ms Tash suffered in the minutes before she was arrested; and second, has any investigation been undertaken to identify the individual who attempted to assault her while she was being arrested?

You can read that letter on our website.

FSU writes to Nadhim Zahawi and Michelle Donelan

I’ve written to the Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, and the Minister for Universities, Michelle Donelan, to thank them for introducing two essential amendments to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, both of which we campaigned for: first, removing the caveat “within their field of expertise” from Clause 1, so the new free speech protections in the Bill apply to academics regardless of whether they’re speaking or writing about something within their field of expertise or not; and second, making it harder for “security costs” to be cited by universities or student unions to justify no-platforming a controversial speaker. We were also pleased to see Ms Donelan confirm in the House that temporary and visiting academic staff will be shielded by the Bill’s additional protections, another thing we’ve been campaigning for.

You can read the letter in full here.

The FSU’s new briefing paper on the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

The Higher Education Bill had its second reading in the House of Lords last week, and it was heartening to see the Free Speech Union’s casework and policy briefings being mentioned in the debate.

In a terrific speech that made the case for the Bill, Baroness Fox noted that “it is not being cancelled but the process of being accused and investigated that has become the punishment, leaving a stigma and a question mark on one’s reputation. You have only to look at the case files of Academics for Academic Freedom or the Free Speech Union to get the gist.” Sadly true. As I pointed out in the Mail earlier this month, we “get about a dozen requests for help a week from university students or academics who’ve got into trouble for exercising their lawful right to free speech”. We’ve intervened in hundreds of cases and in almost every one of those the individuals concerned would have been in a stronger position had the new law been in place.

Earlier in the debate, Baroness Hoey said that she was “sure that amendments will come through your Lordships’ House… many of which have been suggested by what I consider to be the excellent Free Speech Union”. The amendments the Baroness was referring to here are set out in our recently published briefing paper, where we revisit the original case for the legislation, welcome the fact that the Government has accepted two of the amendments we’ve been campaigning for, reiterate the arguments for those amendments, and make the case for six new amendments that we think will improve the Bill, making its new free speech protections even more robust. You can read that document in full here.

Over the next few weeks and months, we’re looking forward to engaging with the FSU’s allies in both houses of Parliament to ensure that the final version of the Bill contains as many of these amendments as possible.

FSU-led amendment to the Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Act to rein in NCHIs

Non-crime hate incidents were back in the news last month, after Wiltshire Police opened a file when an 11-year-old boy was called “shorty” in the street by another boy (Sun, GB News, Mail).

We’ve been pointing out for a long time that NCHIs are a sinister form of thought-policing (our briefing document is here, and our handy FAQs on how to get an NCHI expunged from your record is here). According to the College of Policing (CoP) guidelines drawn up in 2014, NCHIs are any non-criminal act of hostility towards someone with a ‘protected’ characteristic that’s perceived to be motivated by hatred of that characteristic. They can be reported by the victim or by anyone who witnessed the incident and are recorded irrespective of whether there is any objective evidence to identify the hate element. NCHIs can then show up in an enhanced criminal records checks, which could affect the ability of the name-calling young boy in Wiltshire to get a job or enrol on an apprenticeship course.

Still, at least he appears to know that he’s been given one, which means he’s one of the ‘lucky’ NCHI holders. That’s because police forces in England and Wales aren’t required to notify someone if an NCHI is recorded against their name – and the police are continuing to log ‘non crimes’ in the same way, in spite of the Court of Appeal declaring the CoP’s guidance unlawful in a landmark case brought by Harry Miller. Given that an estimated 250,000 NCHIs have been recorded in England and Wales since 2014, it’s likely that hundreds of thousands of people still unwittingly carry one around on their records.

However, it looks like there may now be some good news on the horizon. The FSU worked with a group of peers to propose an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. This amendment will enable the Home Secretary to issue statutory guidance concerning the recording and retention of NCHI data by the police which would supersede the CoP’s guidance – and we know from a subsequent FOI request that Priti Patel is going to avail herself of that option. Assuming she issues the guidance we think she will, NCHIs will only be recorded against people’s names in future and the information stored in police databases in exceptional circumstances. You can find the amendment at Section 61 of the Act here.

National coverage of the FSU’s victory in battle with Worcester College, Oxford

The Telegraph carried news of a huge victory for the Free Speech Union in its long-running battle with Worcester College, Oxford this month (the story was subsequently picked up by other news outlets, including The Critic, Epoch Times, Christian Institute and Christian Post).

The College has now admitted it “misled” students after capitulating to an activist mob back in 2021 and cancelling a Christian event that had been due to take place on its campus. Worcester College, run by David Isaac, the former Chair of LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall (2003-12) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2016-20), had previously apologised to students for hosting a Christian Concern summer school – known as the Wilberforce Academy. Mr Isaac then proceeded to cancel a second booking after a small number of students complained that they had been “distressed” by the presence of the Academy on campus last summer. In what the Mail described at the time as an example of cancel culture in Britain’s universities, Worcester College emailed students to acknowledge that the booking “was a serious failure that has caused significant distress” and promised never to allow the Wilberforce Academy to come back.

I first wrote to Mr Isaac in September 2021, pointing out that to exclude a group from holding an event on the College’s premises because of its Christian beliefs would be a breach of the Equality Act 2010: “Under section 29(1) of that Act, Worcester’s response to student distaste at the Wilberforce Academy seems to amount, quite openly, to a policy of discrimination.” You can read my letter, along with Mr Issac’s response, here.

In March of this year, an independent review found “no evidence” for the allegations made by a fellow of the College, that “aggressive leafleting” had taken place and that conference attendees had made “unsolicited approaches” to staff and students to discuss controversial opinions on LGBT conversation therapy (Telegraph). As the review made clear, the College acted on these complaints despite staff and students being unable to locate copies of the leaflets, and despite Christian Concern stating that no leaflets had in fact been distributed.

Following the report’s publication, I wrote again to Mr Isaac, asking him to retract his apology, and lift the ban he imposed on further bookings by the Academy. I also pointed out that “we continue to stand by Christian Concern and will provide whatever legal and financial assistance we deem appropriate should this matter escalate”. You can read that letter here.

After these warnings, the College eventually admitted that it was “misleading to suggest that Conference delegates or representatives of Christian Concern acted improperly in an email to students in September 2021”.

In a joint statement issued with Christian Concern, both parties reaffirmed their mutual commitment “to the right to freedom of speech and religious belief and the dignity of all people”. In a world where “differing views are strongly and sincerely held”, the statement added, “it is important to come together and listen to each other. To that end, Worcester has invited Christian Concern to speak at a debate which will take place as soon as can be arranged.”

As I pointed out in the Telegraph, “the mistake Worcester College made was to immediately capitulate to the demands of an activist mob and ban a group from its premises without properly investigating the allegations against it. Sadly, we see this kind of institutional cowardice again and again, particularly in the higher education sector, usually motivated by a desire for a quiet life. As this case neatly demonstrates, the way to force such institutions to take their responsibility to uphold free speech more seriously is to make it clear that organisations like ours will create an almighty fuss if they don’t.”

Oxford University changes harassment rules in free speech row

As reported in the Times Higher Education this month, the FSU has been helping a group of nine senior academics formally petition the University of Oxford to reform its policies and protect free speech and academic freedom in accordance with the law. The question under Part 5 of the Congregation Regulations 2 of 2002, has now appeared in the University’s journal of record, the Oxford Gazette (here).

Currently, Oxford professors are expected to adhere to the university’s harassment policy and its guidance on social media use, which requires “all members of the university community… to treat each other with respect, courtesy and consideration in all forms of communication with one another”. The purpose of putting the question to the University’s Council was not, of course, to allow harassment or encourage incivility – the FSU believes that the University should have power to restrain destructive and gratuitously abusive conduct. The concern is more that the requirement for colleagues “to treat each other with respect, courtesy and consideration”, while reasonable, is, as per the question in the Oxford Gazette, “legally baseless” because “speech that lacks respect, professionalism, etc., is still free speech within the law”. As a “matter of principle”, the question states, “the policy of the University – as an institution founded on tolerance, free thought and free expression – should in all circumstances be more liberal and open-minded than the policy of social media platforms”.

The question to the University’s council, along with the Council’s reply, was published in the Oxford Gazette on 9th June, and Bryn Harris, the FSU’s Chief Legal Counsel, and Karolien Celie, our Legal Officer, have now written about this in an article for the Oxford Journal entitled ‘The Faltering State of Academic Freedom’. As the title suggests, they’re not particularly impressed by the University Council’s reply to the academics’ question. “Despite benefitting from the advice of a QC,” they write, the Council’s reply “could charitably be described as ‘thin’… prompt[ing] many questions, and answer[ing] none” (p. 5). They go on to note that the question “was an opportunity for the University to vindicate its position by setting out clearly those elusive legal grounds on which its policies can be justified”, and its failure to do so must “give rise to the inference that it has failed to identity such grounds because they do not exist” (p. 6).

You can read Bryn and Karolien’s article here.

Briefing paper on the Bill of Right

Following a Government consultation which the FSU contributed to, the Government has introduced a Bill of Rights Bill in the form of a Parliamentary bill. If passed, it will repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) and introduce a new framework for domestic implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Free Speech Union has just published its briefing on the Bill, which you can find here. We’re pleased to see that the Government took up several of our suggestions and intends to re-establish freedom of speech as the pre-eminent right on which all other rights are based. That said, we have reservations about the way in which the Government proposes to safeguard that right. We’ve flagged up the Bill’s proposed exceptions to the application of the right, and the effective immunity from scrutiny granted to legislation, as areas for improvement. You can read the briefing here.

New Scottish web page

Back in April, the FSU opened a Scottish office due to overwhelming demand from its Scottish members. Last month saw the launch of our new Scottish webpage, which you can see here. Not only does the page showcase the work the FSU is already doing on behalf of its Scottish members, it also acts as a first point of contact for Scottish members – or prospective members – concerned that they’re being penalised for exercising their lawful right to free speech. As Fraser Hudghton, our Director of Case Management and the Director of FSU Scotland, notes, “There are specific challenges in Scotland with devolved legislation and it’s vitally important Scots know that we are there to provide help when they need it most.”

FAQs on what to do if you are asked to declare your preferred gender pronouns

We have been contacted by many members recently asking what to do about the fact that their employer has asked them to declare their gender pronouns, usually on a lanyard or name badge, or in their email signatures. Consequently, we thought it would be useful to pull together some FAQs on this issue.

As with so many free speech issues, there are some legal protections for employees who do not wish to declare their gender pronouns, but there are also some legal justifications employers can cite for trying to get them to do so, namely, the Equality Act 2010. Then again, the Equality Act also provides some protection for employees if they’re being discriminated against on the basis of their religious or philosophical beliefs, such as the belief that sex is binary and fixed. So it’s complicated. The bottom line is that if you’ve been asked to publicly declare your gender pronouns by your manager or boss and you believe you might suffer a detriment if you refuse to do so, you should contact a member of our case team.

FSU South Africa is launched!

The FSU is delighted to announce the launch of the Free Speech Union South Africa (FSU SA). The FSU SA is a much-needed organisation.

Free speech in South Africa is protected by Section 16(2) of the Constitution. The limits to free speech in that document, as FSU SA points out, are not too restrictive. And yet, the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act of 2000 has markedly increased the grounds on which free speech can be limited. The recently proposed Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill is also now seeking to criminalise insulting, offensive and hurtful speech, with penalties of up to three years in jail – as the FSU SA makes clear, it’s not that offensive speech shouldn’t be challenged, it’s simply that no-one should have a legal right not to offended.

It’s in this context that FSU SA will promote free speech, criticise restrictions of it and assist, where possible, anyone whose freedom of speech and freedom of opinion is under attack, or anyone whose employment by or membership of an institution has been terminated because of their exercise of free speech.

You can see the FSU SA’s website here.

General fighting fund

This month we’ve helped people from all walks of life, with cases ranging from people being kicked off social media for questioning trans ideology, to members losing their jobs and livelihoods for comments made outside of work. People contact us every week who never imagined they’d need our support. Help us to help them: if you can, please donate to our general fighting fund.

Sharing the newsletter

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 us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below to help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Kind regards,

Toby Young

Victory in Legal Dispute With Essex University

We’ve been engaged in a protracted legal dispute with the University of Essex over its apparent reluctance to update its policies to avoid a repetition of the no-platforming of two feminist law professors. Thankfully, this has now been resolved with the University agreeing to do what it ought to have done some time ago.

Two-and-a-half years ago, Professor Jo Phoenix and Professor Rosa Freedman, both gender critical feminists, were disinvited from two separate events at the University following protests from LGBTQ+ activists who claimed that allowing them to speak would be a breach of various University policies, including one entitled ‘Harassment and Bullying: Our Zero Tolerance Approach’. Among other things, these policies set out the University’s legal duty to protect minority students from being harassed or discriminated against under the Equality Act 2010. The protestors claimed that merely allowing these two gender critical feminists on campus, even if they spoke about something entirely unrelated to trans rights, would be against the law.

This double no-platforming provoked widespread condemnation and the University commissioned the equalities barrister Akua Reindorf to review its policies. She concluded that the University was in breach of its statutory duty to ensure freedom of speech for visiting speakers, as well as its regulatory obligations, duties under charity law and – in all probability – its legal duties as set out in the Equality Act 2010. Reindorf pointedly said that the University’s policies that had been invoked to no-platform Professors Phoenix and Freedman interpreted the law “as Stonewall would prefer it to be, rather than the law as it is”. It goes without saying that Essex is a member of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme. (You can read a summary of Reindorf’s report here.)

The report made 28 recommendations, some of them concerning Essex’s policies which, according to Reindorf, were based on a misunderstanding of the Equality Act arising from Stonewall’s flawed legal advice. The University duly apologised to Professors Phoenix and Freedman and agreed to implement Reindorf’s recommendations – but when the LGBTQ+ activists complained that the apology made them feel ‘unsafe’, the University then issued a second apology apologising for the first, which didn’t bode well. Sure enough, it then dragged its feet over making the changes it had promised to make.

We wrote to Essex last November threatening it with a Judicial Review if it didn’t amend its policies to ensure they accurately stated the law and weren’t in breach of the University’s free speech duties. Essex wrote back, agreeing to do some of the things we’d asked, although it claimed it was intending to do them anyway, but disputing that it was legally required to comply with all our demands. We then wrote again, extracting a few more concessions… and on and on it went until, eventually, the University agreed to do more or less everything we’d asked.

Having secured this important victory, we’ve now embarked on a piece of research to determine how many other British universities are making the same mistakes as Essex – particularly those that are members of the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme. We’ve already discovered several malefactors and we intend to write to them pointing out that Essex agreed to correct these mistakes after they’d been alerted to them by Akia Reindorf and given a not-so-gentle push by us. Hopefully, they’ll also fall into line.

Bryn Harris, our Chief Legal Counsel and the mastermind behind this campaign, had the following to say:

The Free Speech Union is delighted that the University of Essex amended its policies in response to legal correspondence from us. We hope other universities will adopt this sensible approach. The Equality Act does not apply in every situation, and where it does apply it doesn’t provide carte blanche for activists to no-platform those whose views they disagree with.

This isn’t an abstract issue. Misunderstanding of the Equality Act and free speech obligations led to unfair treatment of Rosa Freedman and Jo Phoenix. This matters.

Universities need to start getting this right, or they face the likelihood of challenge by the likes of us and, in the future, regulatory intervention and even liability in damages once the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill becomes law.

The Free Speech Union plans to exert continuous pressure on universities that impose unlawful restrictions on the speech of their students, staff and visiting speakers.

An update on the case of FSU member Simon Isherwood

The case of one of our members, Simon Isherwood, was back in the news last month. Among others, the Telegraph, the Mail, GB News, Reclaim the Net and Zero Hedge reported on the Employment Tribunal hearing of the railway conductor who is suing his former employer after he was sacked when he was caught questioning “black privilege” during video-conference diversity training on “white privilege”. The session in question was attended by around 80 staff members from East Midlands Railway, West Midlands Railway and Mr Isherwood’s former company London Northwestern Railway, which is owned by West Midland Trains. At the end of the session, while staff were thanking the host, Simon accidentally left his microphone on and was overheard telling his wife: “I couldn’t be arsed because I thought, ‘You know what, I’ll just get fucking angry.’ You know what I really wanted to ask?… and I wish I had, ‘Do they have black privilege in other countries?’ So, if you’re in Ghana?…”

After an internal disciplinary probe, West Midlands Trains sacked Mr Isherwood, claiming the comments “caused offence, brought the company into disrepute and breached our equality, diversity and inclusion policy and the code of conduct”.

Speaking to the Telegraph, however, Simon pointed out that he made these comments in his home when he had a reasonable expectation of privacy. “It was a private conversation, I had no idea anyone was listening to me,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, the effect of the sacking has been devastating for Simon. “I’ve lost my job, my income, my reputation, my health is absolutely shot to pieces,” he said. “I’d worked there for 11 and a half years and never had anything but promotion, praise and awards and even now I can’t believe it.”

Simon’s hearing was on 5th and 6th May before Judge Wyeth in the Watford Employment Tribunal. As expected, Simon was an honest and compelling witness, and stood up to cross-examination with aplomb. We drafted in leading civil liberties barrister Paul Diamond to represent him. Paul has fought landmark cases in the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights, and, as you might expect from someone of that caliber, was unrelenting in picking apart the holes in the other side’s evidence. He also successfully convinced the judge that the freedom of speech issues in this particular case require close attention. Indeed, it’s for that reason that the judge reserved judgment, rather than giving it extempore. The timescale is uncertain, but we hope Simon will receive the judgment this month. If Simon wins his case, the remedy hearing, where the size of his award will be decided, is scheduled for 19th September.

The FSU’s packed summer schedule

Now that we really are ‘back to normal’, the FSU has great pleasure in unveiling our packed programme of summer events. We have two Online Speakeasies coming up: How Woke Won with Dr Joanna Williams on Wednesday 15th June and Trans – When Ideology Hits Reality with Helen Joyce on Tuesday 12th July. If you are a member, look out for emails inviting you to register so that you can receive the Zoom links.

In addition, we’re launching a series of Regional Speakeasies. Some of you may have already come along to our in-person meet-ups in pubs and bars, where members can socialise while exploring free speech issues. During late June and July, Regional Speakeasies will be happening in Birmingham, Brighton, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester and Oxford. Dates and details will be emailed to all members next week, with links to register on Eventbrite. Members are welcome to bring guests, particularly those likely to join the FSU!

London members, many of whom came to our packed meet-up in March, are encouraged to get tickets to our Summer Special Comedy Night on Wednesday 29 June, where there will be plenty of opportunities to meet other members and the FSU’s staff. This extravaganza of comedy and music is being held in association with Comedy Unleashed – the home of free-thinking comedy. The MC for the night will be FSU favourite Dominic Frisby – who you can watch talking about the event here – and Dominic will also be performing a special set of comedy hits with his band the Gilets Jaunes. Also on the bill is comedy crooner and ubermeister of lounge, Frank Sanazi, described in Chortle as “the extravagantly offensive love-child of Adolf Hitler and Frank Sinatra”. Frank will be accompanied by his legendary friends Dean Stalin, Spliff Richard and Tom Mones. As this event is also a fund-raiser it is open to the public – you can get your tickets here.

You can see all our upcoming events on our new Events page and get tickets to some events, such as the London comedy night. If you’re not yet a member, take a look and find out what you are missing or if are a member it’s a good way of persuading a friend to join.

Academic removed from academic event for “disruptive” questions

Dr Jon Pike is a member of the FSU. He’s also a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the Open University. His specialism is the philosophy and ethics of sport, and he’s also a global expert in issues surrounding transgender inclusion in women’s sport. On 16th May Dr Pike attended an online event at Loughborough University entitled ‘IAS Festival of Ideas: Transitions – Festival and Book Launch Gender Diversity and Sport: Interdisciplinary perspectives on increasing inclusivity’. This topic was well within the parameters of his research and expertise, but he was removed from the event for asking questions about the fairness of allowing biological men to compete against female athletes. Dr Pike later received a terse email from Loughborough University’s Institute of Advanced Studies informing him that his removal had been necessary “due to the disruptive nature of [his] questioning”. The Free Speech Union has written to Loughborough University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Nick Jennings, to express its concern. We think this to be a failure of the University to discharge its duty to uphold free speech on campus, and an act of discrimination against Dr Pike on the grounds of his gender critical beliefs. The full text of the FSU’s letter is available here. We are currently awaiting the University’s response.

Douglas Murray Speakeasy best attended yet

Last month’s Speakeasy with FSU Director and best-selling author Douglas Murray was attended by over 500 members, making it the most popular one we’ve held so far. After a short interview with me, Douglas answered questions from our members about his new book The War on the West. You can watch the whole thing on our YouTube channel here. And don’t forget to subscribe – once we’ve reached a certain number of subscribers we can start selling ads on the channel.

NCHIs – a request for members in Greater London to get in touch

As many of you will know, in December of last year, the former police officer Harry Miller won a landmark legal battle against the recording of NCHIs, and the College of Policing guidelines were ruled unlawful. The Free Speech Union was proud to back Harry in that case. Had he lost and had to pay the other side’s costs, we’d pledged to help with that bill. There is, however, plenty of work for the FSU to do. That’s because police forces in England and Wales aren’t required to notify someone if an NCHI is recorded against their name – and for all we know, the police are continuing to log ‘non crimes’ in the same way. Given that an estimated 250,000 NCHIs have been recorded since 2014, it’s likely that hundreds of thousands of people still unwittingly carry one around on their records.

At the moment we’re really keen for members to come forward if they’ve been given an NCHI from the Metropolitan Police, or if they think they might have been. The Met’s jurisdiction, by the way, covers the 32 boroughs within Greater London, excluding the City of London. You can find a map here.

So please do ask around friends, colleagues and family members. You can reach our case team on [email protected], or drop us an initial direct message via our Twitter page (@SpeechUnion), our Facebook page (@SpeechUnion), our LinkedIn page (Free Speech Union) or our Instagram page (@FreeSpeechUnion). Of course, if you think you might have received an NCHI from a force other than the Met, then do also get in touch via the same channels. The FSU’s FAQs on how to find out if you have an NCHI recorded against your name is here.

Forcing children to use the preferred gender pronouns of their classmates is against the law

In the US, the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR) has written to the principal of a Middle School in Wisconsin in response to an ‘incident report’ submitted through their transparency website (which you can access here). The details are scarcely believable:

A Wisconsin school district has filed sexual harassment complaints against three middle schoolers for calling a trans classmate by the wrong gender pronoun. The school district in Kiel has charged the three eight-graders at the Kiel Middle School with sexual harassment after an incident in April in which the students refused to use “they” to refer to a classmate who had switched pronouns a month before the alleged incident.

As FAIR concede, “it may be polite for students to use the preferred pronouns of their classmates”, but in the US, “punishing them if they do not” is to “disregard their First Amendment rights”.

Just as forcing American schoolchildren to use the preferred gender pronouns of their trans classmates would be a breach of their First Amendment rights, so forcing British schoolchildren to do likewise would be unlawful under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights – or so we believe. If any of our members have children (or grandchildren) who are being forced to do this – not asked to do it because it’s polite, but threatened with a punishment if they don’t – please get in touch. We would be happy to write to the school in question pointing out that insisting on this is probably unlawful.

General fighting fund

This month we’ve helped people from all walks of life, with cases ranging from people being kicked off social media for questioning trans ideology, to members losing their jobs and livelihoods for comments made outside of work. People contact us every week who never imagined they’d need our support. Help us to help them: if you can, please donate to our general fighting fund.

Sharing the newsletter

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 us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below to help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Kind regards,

Toby Young

Free Speech Union Opens Scottish Office

Welcome to the Free Speech Union’s monthly newsletter in which we tell you about all the things we’ve achieved in the previous month.

The launch of our Scottish office on 21st April attracted favourable attention in the Times (here and here), the Scottish Daily Express, Reclaim the Net, the Epoch Times and the Daily Sceptic. It was particularly encouraging to see the enthusiasm on display below the line after the Times ran our Scotland launch as its top Scotland story – posters welcomed the move and were keen to know where they could sign-up.

The FSU opened its Edinburgh branch due to overwhelming demand from its Scottish members who are concerned that free speech is in peril north of the border. Those concerns are well-founded. As the Epoch Times pointed out in its coverage of our launch night, over the past few years we’ve seen the authorities convict a Scottish comedian for telling a bad joke, the University of Edinburgh rename a tower honouring David Hume due to his “racist” views, and a successful children’s author (who the FSU is currently supporting) forced to retrain as a truck driver for publicly backing JK Rowling’s gender critical views. Many are also concerned by the “chilling effect” of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act; an Act which, more than a year after receiving Royal assent, has thankfully yet to be activated. But as one of the members of our newly formed Scottish Advisory Council pointed out while throwing his support behind FSU Scotland in a barnstorming Times Thunderer, as and when that legislation is finally activated it will undoubtedly “shut down discussion of vital public importance such as the conflict between sex-based women’s rights and trans rights”.

Nor are these concerns the exclusive preserve of opponents of the present SNP Government. FSU Scotland has attracted widespread, cross-party support: SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC, education policy professor Lindsay Paterson, former Scottish Conservative deputy leader Murdo Fraser MSP and award-winning poet Jenny Lindsay have all recently joined our Advisory Board, where they will sit alongside former University of Edinburgh rector Iain Macwhirter, director of the Catholic Media Office Peter Kearney and former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars.

I hosted the launch event and it included a keynote address from Jacob Mchangama, the internationally renowned free speech advocate and author of the highly acclaimed new book Free Speech: A Global History from Socrates to Social Media. We were joined by a distinguished panel and, together, we debated the importance of free speech and fielded questions from the audience. We had a great turnout, and the FSU team met with many passionate people who care deeply about protecting free speech in Scotland. There was real enthusiasm in the room for what we’re trying to do, and the overwhelming impression we came away with was that there’s a vital need for the FSU in Scotland. You can see a short YouTube video in which various members of our Scottish Advisory Council talk about why free speech is important here.

Our response to the University of Aberdeen’s no-platforming of Alex Salmond

As though to illustrate the need for FSU Scotland, the day after our launch Alex Salmond was no-platformed by the University of Aberdeen. Mr Salmond had been due to speak at the Aberdeen University Student Union Golf Club on the evening of 22nd April, but at the last minute the booking was cancelled, forcing him to give his talk in a car park outside the venue. Mr Salmond said that the reason he was no-platformed was because transrights activists at the University who disagree with his position on proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act had petitioned the Golf Club to cancel the event. This no-platforming was, he said, a “sinister attack on freedom of speech”. Mr Salmond’s analysis was subsequently confirmed when Alisa Koester, the student President of the Aberdeen University Students Association, told a newspaper: “AUSA stands in full solidarity with the trans community who raised concerns about the event. Our campus should be a safe place where all our students feel welcome.”

I wrote to the University of Aberdeen’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor George Boyne, to point out that the no-platforming of Mr Salmond was contrary to Scottish law, contrary to the University of Aberdeen’s own free speech policy and a breach of his right to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights. The letter concluded with two requests: first, that Professor Boyne ask the golf club to apologise to Mr Salmond and reschedule his talk as soon as practically possible; and second, that the university issue a statement affirming its commitment to free speech and pointing out to the student activists who no-platformed Mr Salmond that attempting to silence those with whom one disagrees is an action that has no place at any university. You can read that letter here and see the coverage it got in the Times here.

Rt Hon Lord David Frost to join the FSU’s Advisory Council

The FSU is delighted to announce that the Rt Hon Lord David Frost is joining our advisory panel. Lord Frost has been a member of the House of Lords since August 2020. From March 2021 until December 2021, he was also Minister of State at the Cabinet Office. Before that, Lord Frost was the United Kingdom’s Chief Negotiator for Exiting the European Union, led the UK’s Brexit talks with the European Union and was instrumental in negotiating a free trade agreement during the Brexit transition period. Lord Frost has also recently accepted a Senior Fellowship with the think tank Policy Exchange and has repeatedly stood up for free speech, most recently in his Telegraph column where he expressed reservations about the Online Safety Bill.

Non-crime hate incidents: an update on our recent legal success story

Two years ago, one of our members, Kevin Mills, was recorded as having committed a ‘non-crime hate incident’ (NCHI) by the police after he refused to work with a customer who threw a scalding mug of tea at him. In last month’s newsletter we reported our success in getting that NCHI permanently deleted from Kevin’s police records. But as we pointed out on Twitter at the time, it was definitely a case of one down, many more to go. That’s because police forces in England and Wales aren’t required to notify someone if an NCHI is recorded against their name. Given that close to a quarter of a million NCHIs have been recorded since 2014, it’s likely that tens of thousands of people are still unwittingly carrying one around on their records (and they can show up if an employer carries out an Enhanced Disclosure and Barring check). The FSU’s success in the case of Kevin Mills helped push the issue back into the media spotlight in April: the Spectator, Spiked, the Sun and the Express all ran pieces about NCHIs that cited the FSU’s casework and research. The good news is that off the back of that exposure we’ve recently seen an uptick in the number of people reaching out to us via our various social media channels – i.e., Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – for support and advice.

Nottingham holds out on Sewell degree

Nottingham University is still resisting calls to reverse its decision not to award an honorary degree to former government race tsar Dr Tony Sewell, claiming Sewell’s presence would “overshadow” graduation ceremonies and upset students. We wrote to the EHRC asking them to investigate whether Nottingham’s decision was motivated by racial prejudice; 50 Tory MPs also wrote to the University, highlighting the “absurdity” of granting honorary degrees to disgraced former Malaysian PM Najib Razak and Uighur re-education camp denying ex-Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming while rescinding its offer of the same to Dr Sewell “simply because he earned the ire of a few frustrated ideologues for his widely welcomed work” on the Government’s race report.

Gillian Philip fundraiser

We’ve launched a CrowdJustice fundraiser on behalf of our member Gillian Philip, a writer of young-adult fiction whose contract was terminated after she expressed the heretical belief that biological sex is real. Her sin was adding the hashtag #IStandwithJKRowling to her Twitter account, which immediately led to demands that her publisher dump her and, needless to say, it did just that. Gillian’s contract was ended, and her agent abandoned her, just one month after the death of her husband. The effect on her was shattering. Today she works as a courier and an HGV driver to make ends meet. Please help Gillian fight for her freedom of speech by giving what you can to the crowdfunder.

FSU calls for an inquiry into Cardiff University

The FSU has been signal-boosting a petition to the Welsh Senedd, asking for an inquiry into Cardiff University’s failure to protect members of its academic staff who received death threats after they publicly queried the University’s membership of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme. We have written again to the Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff about this, querying why the University is refusing to properly investigate the bullying and harassment of these academics. We also wrote to Welsh Minister of Education Jeremy Miles MS. Please sign the petition. If it gets 10,000 signatures, it will be considered for a debate in the Senedd.

U-Turn on U-Turn on ‘conversion therapy’

In a double U-turn – a 360° U-turn? – the Government said it planned to drop its pledge to ban conversion therapy, and then announced hours later that the ban would in fact proceed but with a carve-out for gender dysphoria. We welcomed the initial announcement and were relieved when the Government made it clear that the ban wouldn’t extend to referring adolescents with gender dysphoria to therapists. You can read our response to the Government’s consultation about banning conversion therapy here. In our submission we said: “Our concern is that ‘conversion therapy’, as currently under discussion, is too vaguely defined to form the basis of a new law and such a law would inevitably have a chilling effect on free speech.”

The Online Safety Bill returns to Parliament for its second reading

The origins of the Online Safety Bill (OSB) lie in the troubling death of Molly Russell, a teenager who took her own life after viewing images of suicide and self-harm on Instagram. Theresa May’s government felt something should be done, and now, after five years, a White Paper, a consultation, a draft Bill, a joint committee of Parliamentarians, a report by that committee and a separate inquiry by the DCMS Select Committee, we’ve finally arrived at the Bill’s Second Reading in the House of Commons.

The FSU has been tracking the legislation’s progress through Parliament. You can find our briefings about the Bill here.

To coincide with the OSB’s second reading on 19th April, the FSU issued a press release which you can read in full here. It sets out the FSU’s current view, which is that although the latest iteration of the Bill makes welcome provision to protect children from illegal content on the internet, it doesn’t afford online freedom of speech and expression the robust, meaningful protections it needs.

Last month, I was invited to discuss the risks posed by the Bill for Christians in an interview with Christian Today, saying that its requirement that social media companies should remove ‘legal but harmful’ speech would “almost certainly include some posts expressing orthodox Christian beliefs, although the big social media companies need no encouragement when it comes to removing them”.

April also saw the publication of a personal essay by Dr Frederick Attenborough, the FSU’s new Communications Officer. The paper set out his concerns regarding the Bill’s proposed regulatory architecture and suggests a series of focused and limited amendments that would effectively require both Ofcom, and the online service providers it will soon be regulating, to more robustly protect and preserve online freedom of speech.

Over the next few months, we’ll be engaging with our allies in both chambers of Parliament to ensure that the final version of the Bill more adequately balances the need to protect people from harm with protecting freedom of speech.

Slap down SLAPPs

Baroness Tina Stowell, Chair of House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee, said the committee had heard “concerning evidence” about the chilling effect that SLAPPs are having on free speech. SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation and SLAPPs are heavy-handed legal actions used by wealthy individuals or companies to intimidate and deter journalists from reporting on their wrongdoing. Stowell described both costs and case numbers as “out of control” and said the committee would be “writing to the Government to encourage urgent action on this issue”. The FSU is responding to the Government’s consultation on SLAPPs, which you can find here.

The FSU’s response to a Home Office email asking staff to state their pronouns

Last month the FSU wrote to Matthew Rycroft (above), the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, to complain about a directive issued to Home Office staff. Guido Fawkes and the Times have the details of the FSU’s involvement, but the gist of the story is that staff in the Visa, Status and Information Services Department were sent a standardised format for their email signatures with the suggestion that they include their preferred gender pronouns. This ‘suggestion’ was followed by an email from a manager that stated: “In case anybody wasn’t sure, this change does affect us and so we need to alter our signatures to match the template on the email.” In the template the manager was alluding to, he had included his own name followed by “(he, him, his)”. So was this directive just a clumsily worded ‘suggestion’, or an attempt to compel employees to engage in a certain type of expression? This isn’t semantic nit-picking. It matters legally. Any attempt at compulsion would not only have breached the Equality Act 2010, but would have violated those employees’ rights to freedom of thought, conscience and free speech as stipulated in Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In our letter to Mr Rycroft we pointed out the various laws this demand breached. The letter continued: “We trust that this directive was based on a misunderstanding by an overzealous manager and is not official Home Office policy. Indeed, we think it cannot be as you have not included your pronouns in your biography on the UK government website. However, we would ask you to affirm that no Home Office employee has been penalised for refusing to include their pronouns in their email signatures.” The Home Office responded by clarifying that it was only a ‘suggestion’ and not mandatory. You can read the FSU’s letter in full here.

Sharing the newsletter

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 us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below to help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Kind regards,

Toby Young

Victory! Police delete Non-Crime Hate Incident record after our intervention

Member’s ‘non-crime hate incident’ record deleted by police

We’ve succeeded in getting a ‘non-crime hate incident’ (NCHI) permanently deleted from the police record of one of our members, thanks to Harry Miller’s victory in the Court of Appeal. This is a major victory because if we can do it once, we can do it again. The member, who we are not naming, had a nonsensical NCHI recorded against him which could have barred from him working with children or vulnerable adults. We wrote to the local police force on his behalf and the record has now been removed for good.

Our member said: “Without the help of the FSU I would not have cleared this injustice. I really am so grateful.”

If you think you have an NCHI recorded against you, take a look at our FAQs on how to find out if you really do and, if so, how to get it deleted. If you are a member, our case team will be happy to assist. You can reach them on [email protected].

Government throws out plans to censure un-woke MPs

The Government heeded our recommendations in response to Labour MP Chris Bryant’s proposal to add “respect” to the Parliamentary Code and compel MPs to “demonstrate anti-discriminatory attitudes and behaviours through the promotion of anti-racism, inclusion and diversity”. The Government’s response to the consultation, based closely on our submission, said:

Whilst the Government does not consider it necessary to adjust the descriptors specifically in relation to Members of Parliament (or the Lords), we think it is of overarching importance to emphasise tolerance of different viewpoints and protect free debate when considering any changes.

We would not want to stifle legitimate debate on politically contentious issues which are important to our democracy – as an indirect consequence of the proposed new requirement for ‘anti-discriminatory attitudes’ or demonstrating ‘inclusion and diversity’. This could have a chilling effect on free speech on contentious and polarised political issues.

Guido Fawkes, commenting on the centrality of free speech in the Government’s response, said: “This point is something supported by the Free Speech Union, who submitted evidence as part of the consultation arguing against adding the ‘respect’ principle, which would ‘attempt to regulate’ the ‘attitudes’ of MPs, i.e., their views and opinions.”

New online regime promises era of chilling censorship

We are deeply alarmed by the Online Safety Bill, which seeks to prohibit ‘legal but harmful’ speech online. In our press release, we said: “This is an affront to democracy and we will be working closely with our allies across Parliament to help the Government improve the Bill.” Our Chief Legal Counsel Bryn Harris observed that “a government cannot protect free expression while also trying to prohibit harmful speech” in Conservative Home. Our Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs Jennifer Powers said in UnHerd that the “Online Safety Bill is being brought before Parliament with the best of intentions” but “it remains an awful Bill”.

In the Telegraph, our Advisory Council member Juliet Samuel described the Bill as “a charter for censoring the entire internet” and said:

It may be true, as the Government tells its MPs, that the worst aspects of the bill are being watered down – not least due to arguments made by a small army of free speech advocates (including the Free Speech Union, whose advisory board I serve on). But even with adjustments, the legislation is still primed to send the repressive instincts of the tech companies into overdrive.

Guido Fawkes noted that “the Bill has managed to unite Toby Young’s Free Speech Union, gender critical feminists, LGBT groups, and the churches in opposition”. And in the Spectator, I set out how we’d like to amend the Bill:

So what me and my lot have been lobbying for – so far, to no avail – is as follows. First, we’d like to see a free speech duty included in the bill whereby providers are legally obliged to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the right to freedom of expression is not unduly infringed by excessive measures taken to comply with the duties of care under the bill or the social media companies’ own terms and conditions. Second, a requirement for each provider to publish a policy setting out how it will comply with this free speech duty.

Failing this, we’d at least like the ‘have regard [for free speech]’ language to be beefed up to ‘have particular regard’.

No-platforming of Helen Joyce

The journalist Helen Joyce, author of Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, was no-platformed by the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital after trans rights activists objected to her presence on a panel at a one-day NHS conference about the treatment of children with gender dysphoria. (You can read about that episode in the Telegraph.) We’ve written to the Chief Executive of the Hospital asking him to apologise to Dr Joyce and re-arrange for her to speak. If he responds, we’ll publish his reply beneath our letter.

Meanwhile, the FSU was one of several organisations to criticise the Government’s proposal to pass a law banning conversion therapy and, collectively, we appear to have prompted the Prime Minister to think again. (You can read our response to the consultation about the proposed ban here.) In essence, the problem with the new law is that ‘conversion therapy’ isn’t properly defined which means the ban could extend to referring children suffering from gender dysphoria to therapists – anything other than affirming their self-diagnosis, and encouraging them to undergo irreversible medical procedures, could become unlawful. After initially saying it would ditch the proposal, the Government is now saying it will press on with the ban but carve out an exception for the treatment of transgender people.

Our call for an independent inquiry into harassment of gender critical academics at Cardiff

We’ve been helping a group of academics at Cardiff who’ve been victimised and threatened by transactivists for asking the University to review its membership of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme. Cardiff has failed to take appropriate action, despite threats of violence against these academics, and has even misplaced evidence relating to the case.

We wrote to Cardiff’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Colin Riordan, and urged him to set up an independent inquiry into the University’s failure to properly investigate the matter. We also presented new evidence of continuing efforts to threaten and intimidate our members at Cardiff. In his reply, Professor Riordan rejected our call for an investigation, claiming the protests and the threats didn’t take place on campus. We have responded in detail, correcting his misunderstandings and urging him to think again. You can read that correspondence here.

Freedom of Speech Bill to be carried over into next parliamentary session

Good news about the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill we campaigned for: the Government has arranged for a Carry Over motion for the Bill on 25th April, meaning it will not be lost and instead carried over into the next parliamentary session, at which point it should become law. We were concerned that the Bill, which had its first reading in the House of Commons in May 2021, had lost momentum, but the Government is determined to see it through.

Help us challenge indoctrination in schools

Nadhim Zahawi seems to be taking woke indoctrination in schools seriously, following our success in pushing for guidance to be published on the importance of political impartiality in schools. He told the Conservative Party Conference that this was a “complaint I’m hearing more and more” and that some teachers were “keen to either shut down free speech, or to only present one side of an opinion”.

We gave evidence to the Department for Education demonstrating the extent of the problem. We’re currently looking for further examples of politically biased teaching in schools, so if you have any concerns please contact us on [email protected]. In addition, if you have come across examples of teachers or schools invoking the concept of ‘respect’ to stifle criticism of different faiths or beliefs, or to shut down debate, please send them to us as well.

Worcester College’s apology for hosting Christian conference

We’ve written again to David Isaac, the Provost of Worcester College, Oxford, asking him to retract his apology to students after they complained about the use of College facilities by the Wilberforce Academy, a summer school run by Christian Concern. In addition, we urged him to withdraw the ban he imposed on further bookings by the Academy.

Isaac apologised last year – and announced the ban – after students accused the attendees of the three-day event of “aggressive leafleting” and other misdemeanours, but an independent investigation carried out by a charity lawyer has found no evidence to support these allegations. You can read our letter here and a report in the Telegraph about the episode here.

Our appeal to the Equality and Human Rights Commission after Nottingham withdraws honour for race report author Tony Sewell

We have lodged a complaint with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and written to Nottingham University after it withdrew its offer of an honorary degree to Tony Sewell on the basis that Dr Sewell is the subject of “political controversy”. Sewell, who chaired the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, had received criticism and abuse when the Commission published its report last year because it concluded that British society, while far from being free of racism, is not “institutionally racist”.

We identified a number of people to whom Nottingham has awarded honorary doctorates in spite of being embroiled in political controversy – for instance, the former Chinese Ambassador to Britain who dismissed reports of Uighurs being interned in prison camps in China as “fake news” – and asked whether the University discriminated against Sewell because he holds “views which, in the minds of some, black people ought not to hold”. You can read more about our complaint in the Mail on Sunday here.

Ousted from counter-extremism think tank for warning about far-left extremism

This month we’ve helped people from all walks of life – NHS staff, scientists, students, teachers – with cases ranging from people being kicked off social media for questioning trans ideology, to members losing their jobs and livelihoods for comments made outside of work. People contact us every week who never imagined they’d need our support. Help us to help them: if you can, please donate to our general fighting fund.

One FSU member we’ve been supporting is Craig McCann, formerly of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right. He wrote in an article earlier this year:

I am increasingly concerned at the rate at which the so-called ‘CVE field’ [countering violent extremism] is being infiltrated by activists describing themselves as ‘Anti-Fascists’ who advocate for committing criminal offences in furtherance of their opposition to the radical right.

The response to his piece was a whirlwind of abuse, the resignation of the think tank’s Director, and the expulsion of Dr McCann. He only found out about the expulsion from friends; nobody from the think tank bothered to contact him to notify him or offer an explanation. You can read his account of this deeply troubling case in Quillette.

Only a small proportion of our cases can ever be reported publicly, but we’ve had some important successes in recent weeks that I hope to share with you shortly.

FSU Chairman Nigel Biggar triumphs in campaign to protect Rustat memorial at Jesus College

Congratulation to our Chairman Nigel Biggar who successfully campaigned along with others to retain a seventeenth-century memorial at Jesus College, Cambridge to its benefactor Tobias Rustat, who had some financial involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. The Diocese of Ely ruled that the memorial should remain at the College and said that activists seeking the memorial’s removal had created a “false narrative” about the extent of Rustat’s involvement in slavery. You can read a great piece by Dominic Sandbrook on the Rustat affair here and an article in the Times about it by Professor Biggar here.

Join the Free Speech Union

All our work 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 us turn the tide against cancel culture.

Kind Regards,

Toby Young