Monthly Newsletter

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 help@freespeechunion.org, 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 help@freespeechunion.org.

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 info@freespeechunion.org. 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

The Free Speech Union at two

Last month marked two years since I launched the Free Speech Union to defend our most treasured and important right. We can’t declare victory yet, but – thanks to our members – we have won some important battles. We’ve been involved in around 1,000 cases where our members have required our assistance, and we now have a staff of 12, a roster of over 100 academics and lawyers on our advisory councils, and 9,000 paid-up members. You can join us today.

I was delighted to speak to Nigel Farage on the Talking Pints section of his GB News show, which you can watch in full here. I spoke about the attempt to cancel me in 2018, and why I started the FSU. As I said to Nigel, at that time I had no one to turn to, nobody able to offer impartial advice. I was reduced to watching helplessly as my career burned to the ground in front of me. That was one reason I set up the Free Speech Union – so people who found themselves in the position I had would not have to face the mob alone. I sat down with Peter Whittle of the New Culture Forum to discuss the FSU’s second anniversary and told him that while we continue to win tactical victories, the strategic picture does not look so good: without a redoubled effort, we will lose the war. That’s why it’s so important that you spread the word, get people you know to sign-up, and share this newsletter as widely as you can.

The judgment in the Harry Miller case, the Forstater ruling, and the forthcoming Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill are all bit steps forward in the effort to change our law and culture for the better and tip the balance in favour of freedom of speech. But so much more remains to be done, and sadly the Government, giving with one hand, is taking away with the other, as it presses on with its ill-considered Online Safety Bill. You can read our latest briefing about that Bill here.

There is a huge amount yet to be done, and we live in times that call for constant vigilance to safeguard our right to freedom of expression. The tit-for-tat escalation in censorship between Russia and the West since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been an alarming reminder of that.

How to get a ‘non-crime hate incident’ removed from your criminal record

We’ve published some FAQs for members who are concerned that they might have a ‘non-crime hate incident’ recorded against their name and, if so, how to get it expunged from their criminal records. All NCHIs on police records were recorded under guidance that the Court of Appeal found to be unlawful in January, thanks to Harry Miller and the FSU. While the lawfulness of an individual NCHI can only be determined on the facts of the case, there is a good argument that all NCHIs issued under the unlawful guidance are themselves unlawful. In light of that, anyone who suspects they have an NCHI recorded against their name should contact us and we will do our best to help. Find out more here.

Success! Crackdown on biased teaching following the FSU’s intervention

Last month we achieved a major campaigning victory after the Government issued guidance designed to stamp out the shockingly widespread indoctrination of pupils in schools, examples of which many members have alerted us to. It is the first such guidance to be published, and Ofsted will also be issuing its own rules to help teachers understand what their legal duties are. Too often, teachers are completely unaware that they have a legal duty to treat politically contentious subjects in a balanced way.

The guidance came about after the FSU warned about the extent of activist teaching in a dossier we sent to the Department for Education last year – reported at the time in the Telegraph and Mail. We revealed countless examples of indoctrination in schools. These concerns are addressed in the guidance, which can be read in full here, although I didn’t think it went far enough. You can read my reaction to the guidance in Mail+ here.

Cardiff fails to act over campaign to silence academics, despite masses of evidence

In February we wrote to the Welsh Education Minister, Jeremy Miles, urging him to take action about the bullying of a group of academics at Cardiff University who dared question the institution’s entanglement with Stonewall’s discredited Diversity Champions scheme. (You can read about our intervention in this dispute in the Daily Mail.) We’re still awaiting his reply, but the University has again refused to take any further action. However, Shadow Education Minister Laura Jones has now written to Mr Miles and we welcome her efforts to get Cardiff to do more. We’ve called for an investigation into the University’s handling of the affair, and will keep the pressure up until our members’ rights are properly secured.

NHS transgender clinic forced to do U-turn over Black Lives Matter logo

A whistleblower and member of the FSU we’ve been supporting has prompted the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust to climb down over its proposal to adopt a new logo based on the clenched fist of the BLM movement. Our member complained that the logo was too political, prompting the BLM emblem to be replaced with a handshake icon with one black and one white hand. But the logo is the just the tip of the woke iceberg, with the transgender clinic unleashing a “bombardment” of equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives, according to our member. Among other things, staff were asked to take a webinar entitled “whiteness – a problem for our time”. You can read more about the woke takeover of the NHS Trust in the Telegraph. As I told the paper, “It seems clear that the Tavistock has been completely captured by a quasi-religious cult that requires all white members of staff to engage in bizarre self-flagellation rituals. The temptation is to laugh, until you remember that these are senior NHS employees who work with vulnerable children.”

You must affirm EDI to get the job, Durham tells applicants

We’ve written to Professor Karen O’Brien, the new Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, objecting to a requirement that those applying for the role of Assistant Professor in Durham’s International Relations department provide a statement affirming their commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. We are concerned that requiring applicants to profess their fealty to a particular belief system could be a breach of the Equality Act 2010, as well as Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. You can read our letter here.

Case updates

Our case team continues to field dozens of requests for help every week. We’re currently assisting members who are fighting back against spurious disciplinary proceedings, upholding freedom of speech on university campuses and wrestling with censorious HR departments. 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 next time. In the meantime, please help by donating to our general fighting fund. People tell us every week that they joined up to support free speech and never imagined they’d need our support personally, only to find themselves in urgent need of our help.

Reforming the Human Rights Act to strengthen free speech

The Government is currently holding a consultation on its proposals to reform the Human Rights Act 1998. We’ve submitted our response and we would encourage you to respond to. This is an opportunity for us to push for the maintenance and strengthening of the right to freedom of expression within the UK – and if you’d like to submit your own response, we’ve created these FAQs to guide you through the process.

Our London members’ meet-up

Finally, we were delighted to host a packed event in London for our members meet-up last Tuesday and I was pleased to see so many of you there – including several members who we’ve helped over the past two years. This event was the last in our pilot scheme of regional meet-ups. We’ve been all over the UK road-testing this concept and we’ll be unveiling a programme of regional speakeasies shortly.

We can’t take any of our rights for granted – as we discovered during the pandemic – and it is only thanks to our members that we’re able to defend our most important right of all so please sign-up today.

Kind regards,

Toby Young

Police should now delete existing “non-crime hate” records

Harry Miller and Toby Young celebrate the Court of Appeal verdict

Readers will be aware of the landmark victory in the Court of Appeal won by former policeman Harry Miller – with our help – against the practice of the police recording ‘non-crime hate incidents’ (NCHIs) on people’s criminal records for perfectly lawful things they’ve said. I explained why this was such a significant case in Mail+ and interviewed Harry for an online FSU ‘Speakeasy’ last week (if you missed it, the video will be posted shortly on our YouTube channel). His victory was a major milestone in the struggle to restore freedom of speech in Britain.

But despite the judgement that the indiscriminate recording of NCHIs is a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, over a hundred thousand NCHIs remain on police databases. In many cases, they will continue to be disclosed during enhanced criminal record checks, meaning they will continue to blight people’s lives and risk them losing job opportunities or being barred from certain voluntary roles. Getting these records expunged is a top priority for the Free Speech Union and we are working to support several FSU members who have had particularly nonsensical NCHIs recorded against them. If you have had an NCHI recorded against your name and you’d like our help in getting it removed, please contact us at help@freespeechunion.org.

We’re hiring: join the campaign for free speech

If you’d like to get involved in our work, we currently have three vacancies to fill. Join our communications team as our Director of Digital Content and Marketing, or as our Communications Officer. We’re also looking for a Director of Data and Impact to help grow our membership base. We’re keen to fill the positions quickly, so will begin the interview process on a rolling basis. I’d encourage you to apply as soon as possible if you are interested.

Criminologist under investigation for warning about safety of female inmates

We have written to Professor Martin Jones, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Staffordshire University, in defence of our member Professor James Treadwell, a criminologist. He has been placed under investigation by the University after he contributed to the debate over gender self-identification and the risk it poses to female inmates in women’s prisons. His comments on Twitter prompted a complaint from trans activists.

The complaint against him made no substantive argument, as we see all too often, but simply objected to the fact that James had a different philosophical perspective to the complainants. Staffordshire should have dismissed the complaint out of hand but instead it has opened a disciplinary investigation, something that will inevitably have a chilling effect on the free speech of staff and students alike, to say nothing of the stress caused to Professor Treadwell and his family. We’ve called on the University to remind the complainants of their obligation to abide by the Staffordshire’s free speech policy, which states that students must “tolerate” opinions they disagree with even if they find them repugnant.

You can read the letter to the Vice-Chancellor on our website.

Our complaint to Edinburgh VC over Sir Geoff Palmer’s “racist gang” smear

Vandalised statue of Robert Dundas in Edinburgh

If you receive our weekly news round-up you’ll be aware of the extraordinary attack launched by Sir Geoff Palmer, Chair of Edinburgh’s Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group, on two professors at Edinburgh University, Sir Tom Devine and Jonathan Hearn. Both were described as members a “racist gang” by Sir Geoff after they criticised his simple-minded and historically ignorant approach to cleansing Edinburgh of any trace of its colonial past. An article in the Spectator by Professor Hearn questioned the Review Group’s denunciation of Henry Dundas, the 1st Viscount Melville, as a defender of slavery.

We wrote to Professor Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Edinburgh University, calling on him to defend his colleagues from this baseless smear. In his reply to us, Professor Mathieson said he’d spoken to Sir Geoff about the matter. “I did not feel that the recent exchanges had always been conducted with he necessary respect for different perspectives and I have therefore spoken to the Chair of the Steering Group of the University’s Review, Sir Geoff Palmer, to clarify expectations under our Dignity and Respect Policy,” he wrote. Professor Mathieson said he would continue to monitor events. You can read the exchange in the ‘Blog’ section of our website here.

Acas employee investigated for speaking about harmful effects of woke racism on his interracial family

We’re supporting Acas employee Sean Corby, a member of the FSU, who has been accused of racism for posting on an internal, workplace forum criticising the negative impact of so-called anti-racist activism on interracial couples, including his own interracial family. As a result, he’s been placed under investigation and accused of making non-white colleagues feel ‘unsafe’. With our help, he was cleared of the initial complaint in October, only be told last week that the complainants have appealed this verdict and the investigation has been reopened.

I spoke to GB News about the case and told the Telegraph:

Across the Civil Service, no one is allowed to dissent from the dogma of equity, diversity and inclusion, including people of colour. Indeed, woke activists treat black intellectuals who challenge this orthodoxy with particular contempt because they regard them as race traitors.

One of Sean’s posts shared an article by our founding director and GB News host Inaya Folarin Iman – apparently, one of the things that made Sean’s colleagues feel ‘unsafe’. She wrote about this for the Telegraph:

Narrow forms of social justice activism have moved to exploit the weakness and naivety of many organisations and, under the guise of seemingly benign ‘diversity and inclusion’ policies and practices, ideas influenced by identity politics are becoming institutionalised without debate. Once implemented, it becomes very difficult for organisations to roll back from them because they have created structures and incentives that perpetuate censorious thinking.

One of the most chilling aspects of this trend is the false consensus it creates. As institutions act as thought-police for their employees, they mislead the public into thinking these issues are settled, when in fact people are merely scared to express an opposing opinion. Institutions are in danger of compromising their impartiality if they fail to recognise the biases in their assumptions.

Supporting Timothy Luckhurst over the Rod Liddle imbroglio

We have been supporting our member Timothy Luckhurst, a professor at Durham University and the head of South College, who is under investigation because he invited Rod Liddle to give an after-dinner speech at his college. The first part of the investigation concluded last week, but it is ongoing and his fate is still undecided. Among other things, we wrote to Lord Wharton, the Chair of the Office for Students, highlighting the free speech issues engaged by this case, and after receiving the letter he gave an interview to the Telegraph in which he said: “As a point of principle it is important for students to engage with views and theories with which they may not agree. A robust but tolerant sharing of views is an essential element of the whole experience of higher education.”

You can read our letter to Lord Wharton here.

Case updates, victories and crowdfunding

Most of our successes in helping our members cannot be disclosed, either because they sign non-disclosure agreements as part of the settlements they reach with their employers or because they don’t want to appear on a woke blacklist. However, we have decided to pass on the thanks we received from a member whose case was successfully concluded last week without identifying him:

The Free Speech Union were an extraordinary support throughout what was a mercifully brief nightmare. Their expert guidance helped me to address the muddled allegations put to me about my human rights work outside office hours (the subject of the complaint) without everything escalating into an expensive and drawn-out matter in an industrial tribunal.

The Free Speech Union helped my employer see that there is nothing wrong with championing the rights of people with, what some seem to regard as, the least popular personal characteristic afforded protection under equality law, i.e. men and boys.

I will be eternally grateful to them.

Sometimes, our members need to raise money in order to fight their for their rights in the courts and we continue to be amazed at the generosity of our members when asked for their help. Rosie Kay’s crowdfunder has raised nearly £30,000 at the time of writing. Social worker and former nurse Rachel Meade is currently crowdfunding for her legal challenge against Social Work England after she was sanctioned for raising concerns about reform to the Gender Recognition Act.

If you’d like to support our work you can also donate to our general fighting fund.

Right of appeal if social media content is removed

In January we published our latest briefing on the Online Safety Bill. It considers the recommendations made in the report of the parliamentary Joint Committee on the Online Safety Bill. We have welcomed some of these, including the proposal that social media users who’ve had content removed unfairly should have the right to appeal to an independent ombudsman.

We’ve also endorsed the proposal that protections for “content of democratic importance” should be extended beyond journalists and politicians to the general public. Otherwise we would be in the odd position of holding ordinary members of the public with very small social media audiences to higher standards that journalists and MPs with hundreds of thousands of followers.

However, our fundamental concern about the legislation remain: social media platforms should only be legally obliged to remove content that is unlawful, not legal content that, according to some vague, nebulous definition is deemed to be harmful. Requiring them to remove so-called “legal but harmful” content opens up almost limitless scope for censorship.

You can read our briefing here.

Liberate academics from “Liberating the Curriculum”

Before Christmas we were alerted to UCL’s “Liberating the Curriculum” policy, a scheme designed to reduce the number of “dead white (able-bodied European) men” in university courses. Under the policy, anyone applying for a grade 8 job at the University must demonstrate their commitment to removing “dead white able-bodied European men” from reading lists, “check their privilege” and “acknowledge the prejudice baked into their field”.

We wrote to UCL’s Vice-Chancellor, Dr Michael Spence, to raise our serious concerns about the effect this policy would have on academic freedom at UCL. We also warned the University that the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, which is on course to become law later this year, would likely make the obligatory components of the Liberating the Curriculum policy unlawful. You can read our letter and Dr Spence’s reply here.

Videos and podcasts

You can watch our ‘in-depth’ about the Equality Act with Exeter lecturer Dr Wanjiru Njoya, Professor James Allan, Dr Anna Loutfi and me here. And you can listen to me being interviewed by Brendan O’Neill about the second anniversary of the FSU here.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this monthly newsletter. Every victory is made possible because of the support of our members, and we have ambitious plans for the year ahead. Memberships start at just £2.49 a month, so please help us to carry on the fight by becoming a member and by spreading the word to friends and family, and sharing this newsletter on social media. Click here to sign up today.

Kind regards,

Toby Young

Victory! Jeremy Sleath wins his case but more work needs to be done to protect employees’ rights

We are delighted that FSU member and train conductor Jeremy Sleath – sacked by West Midlands Trains for saying he didn’t want to live in an “alcohol-free caliphate” – has won his claim for unfair dismissal. The victory was reported in the Daily Mail. In welcome comments, the judge warned employers against grilling employees about private views irrelevant to their job.

Our Chief Legal Counsel Dr Bryn Harris said:

The dismissal was unfair because, among other things, the decision-maker took into account the irrelevant (and bizarre) matter of whether or not Jeremy would go on holiday in Dubai.

The decision-maker erred (as employers often do) by assuming that Jeremy’s views on all sorts of things were his employer’s concern. They were not. Those views didn’t go to the employment relationship, weren’t for the employer to judge, and Jeremy was free to express them.

Prudent employers will take heed. They do not have free rein to investigate and judge their employees’ beliefs in making disciplinary decisions.

Thanks to our members and supporters we raised a remarkable £22,000 to fight Jeremy’s case. But his case is the tip of the iceberg. Each month our case team receives dozens of requests for help from employees under fire for using their lawful right to free speech. You can donate to our general fighting fund here. Donations will be used to help us fight legal battles on behalf of our members, and for free speech more generally.

While we’re pleased to have helped Jeremy win this case, the judgment was not a landmark victory for the principle of free speech: it showed instead that substantial legal changes are needed to protect employees’ right to free expression outside of office hours.

Cambridge college forced to backdown over racist racism guidance

We’ve forced Downing College, Cambridge to revise guidance it issued encouraging students to report academics for “micro-aggressions”. Among other objectionable things, the policy said that white people could not be victims of racism. This guidance is remarkably similar to the university-wide guidance Cambridge introduced earlier this year and then withdrew after we and others objected. We wrote to Alan Bookbinder, Master of Downing College, raising our concerns about the chilling effect of this policy, and warning that the guidance could be unlawful. We urged Mr Bookbinder to revise the policy or else we would have to take legal action. You can read our letter here.

Following our intervention, the most pernicious aspects of the policy have been removed. As I told the Telegraph, “The College shouldn’t be encouraging students to complain to the authorities just because someone says something they find offensive, provided it’s not unlawful.”

We will continue to be vigilant about individual Cambridge colleges reheating policies like this that have been withdrawn at the university level because of their questionable legality.

Debate takes place at Sussex University about the victimisation of Kathleen Stock

Congratulations to Liberate the Debate and the Free Speech Champions for organising a ‘Free Speech Symposium’ at the University of Sussex, where Professor Kathleen Stock taught until very recently. The event, organised in response to Stock’s treatment, brought together students and academics to discuss why academic freedom matters, what students can do to defend it and how the pressure to self-censor manifests itself in campus life.

Speakers included Professor Dennis Hayes of Academics for Academic Freedom, Dr Arif Ahmed of Cambridge University (both on our Advisory council), Raquel Rosario-Sanchez, the PhD candidate who is currently suing Bristol University for enabling bullying and harassment of her by trans activists, and Sophie Watson, National Organiser of the Free Speech Champions’ University Free Speech Network. The event was well-attended by Sussex students and others who travelled from Sheffield, Warwick, Cambridge and London to take part. All left with a resolve to persuade others that academic freedom and freedom of speech are fundamental to the purpose of the university.

Are the days of ‘non-crime hate incidents’ numbered?

An interesting ruling by the European Court of Human Rights has set a promising precedent for free speech cases where the state has overstepped the mark and left an individual feeling unable to exercise their right to free speech.

It’s worth reading this article by Andrew Tettenborn of our Legal Advisory Council in full, but the short version is that Strasbourg ruled the arrest of Rita Pal, an ex-NHS psychiatrist, for harassment after she took part in a heated email exchange with a barrister and ex-journalist had a chilling effect on her right to freedom of speech, even though the charges were ultimately dropped.

As Professor Tettenborn explains:

She then went to Strasbourg, saying that even though the actual charges had been dropped, her arrest itself had had a chilling effect on her freedom of speech. Here she succeeded. In the absence of clear evidence that the Met had thought seriously about protecting Pal’s freedom of speech, they had no business arresting her in such a way as would clearly discourage her from exercising her speech rights.

We think this will have interesting implications for the ongoing struggle against the recording of ‘non-crime hate incidents’ on people’s criminal records by the police for saying things that are completely lawful.

The House of Lords debated NCHIs recently and the consensus was that they should not appear on people’s criminal records. This Strasbourg ruling, the growing parliamentary scrutiny, and, of course, Harry Miller’s ongoing case, are all reasons to be optimistic.

New Zealand FSU backs academic facing expulsion from Royal Academy for defending science

The Royal Academy of New Zealand is investigating its member Professor Garth Cooper because he objected to a proposal from a government working group that the Maori religion and Western science should be given equal weight in the New Zealand curriculum, with the two being presented alongside each other as equally valid ways of understanding the world.

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Auckland apologised for the “hurt and dismay” Professor Cooper’s words had supposedly caused. Complaints to the Royal Academy followed and – incredibly – a panel has been convened to investigate with a view to expelling Professor Cooper, a distinguished biochemist. Our New Zealand affiliate is vigorously defending him.

If you’re a scholar in the sciences or the humanities, you can help by emailing Paul Atkins, the Chief Executive of the Paul Hunter, at paul.atkins@royalsociety.org.nz. Letters from professors and members of learned societies would be particularly effective. As I wrote in the Spectator recently in a piece about this case, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of intellectual intolerance is for believers in free speech to do nothing.”

We’re hiring!

There is currently a great opportunity to come and work for the Free Speech Union. We’re looking for a full-time Events and Operations Officer to help with our roster of events and to provide general administrative support to our friendly staff. Applications close on 14 December 2021, but we may appoint before then.

More details are available here. Please do forward the advert if you know somebody who would be a good fit for the role and is passionate about free speech.

Lessons in Courage: How I Fought Back Against Cancel Culture by Nick Buckley MBE

One of the best victories we won in our first year was the case of Nick Buckley MBE, the charity boss fired by his own charity for criticising the Marxist ideology behind the Black Lives Matter organisation. We linked him up with a top lawyer and he was reinstated almost immediately.

He’s now published a book, Lessons in Courage: How I Fought Back Against Cancel Culture and Won, about his experiences. It sold out on its first day but is currently available from Amazon.

He also spoke to Peter Whittle of the New Culture Forum about his brush with cancel culture. You can watch the interview here.

Welcome to the Woke Trials by Julie Burchill

Quentin Letts has praised Julie Burchill for “giving the woke a whacking” in her new book, Welcome to the Woke Trials. We found Julie a new publisher for the book last year after her contract was cancelled by Little, Brown – and we made sure she was paid in full. You can buy her book here.

Fighting back against cancel culture

In October we hosted a panel at the Battle of Ideas festival with five people who’d fought back against cancel culture: Harry Miller, Lisa Keogh, Gillian Philip, Sam Baylis and Nick Buckley. You can watch that discussion on YouTube. Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Contrarian of the Year

I was delighted to win the 2021 Contrarian Prize last month in recognition of the work done by the Free Speech Union. As I wrote in my Spectator column about the award:

I was enormously grateful, having never won such a prize before. It was in recognition of the work I’ve done in helping to establish the Free Speech Union and I accepted it on behalf of the staff and the directors, as well as all the people who’ve been good enough to support the organisation.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this monthly newsletter. We’re proud of the work we do, and we think our work is important. Your support is also vital, and memberships start at just £2.49 a month, so please help us to carry on this fight by becoming a member and by spreading the word to friends and family, and sharing this newsletter on social media. Click here to sign up today.

Kind regards,

Toby Young