Monthly Newsletter

Law Commission follows our recommendation to scrap Malicious Communications Act

A supporter protests outside the trial of comedian Mark Meechan who was prosecuted under the Communications Act for making a “grossly offensive” YouTube video.

Last year, we submitted evidence to a consultation by the Law Society of England and Wales about the law governing harmful, threatening, and false communications, telling the Commission we thought the existing law was far too censorious, particularly the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. (It was this section which resulted in the prosecution of the comedian Mark Meechan for being “grossly offensive” after he made a YouTube video about his efforts to teach his girlfriend’s pug to give a Nazi salute.) We urged the Commission to scrap those offences and we’re pleased to see that it is following our advice. In a report published last month, which refers to the evidence submitted by the FSU repeatedly, the Commission recommended replacing those offences with a new “harm-based” communications offence, whereby it would no longer be enough to show a communicant caused annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to secure a prosecution; in future, the Crown would need to show that they deliberately intended to cause non-trivial psychological or physical harm. In addition, we urged the Commission to exempt journalists and media companies from communications offences and it has followed this advice, too.

While we’re glad to see so many of our recommendations adopted, we do have some reservations about the Commission’s proposals. We’re concerned about overly broad definitions of the word “harm”. As a bare minimum, no one should be prosecuted for a given communication unless it can be shown beyond doubt it caused real harm to a person of reasonable firmness. On a platform like Twitter, for instance, which has 330 million monthly active users, a message may cause one of those individuals non-trivial psychological harm because they are particularly psychologically fragile. But it wouldn’t be fair to prosecute a communicant on that basis.

You can see our press release on the Law Commission’s proposals here. Andrew Tettenborn of our Legal Advisory Council has written for the Critic about the Commission’s report, and FSU Research Director Dr Radomir Tylecote spoke to GB News about what the proposals would mean for free speech, highlighting some of the absurd cases that have come before the courts in recent years.

Hatun Tash’s rights must be protected

Following the knife attack on the Christian preacher and FSU member Hatun Tash at Speakers’ Corner last month, we have written again to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick CBE, urging the Met to do more to protect Ms Tash’s right to free speech:

We accept that policing the capital with necessarily limited resources is a difficult job. As such, we recognise that there is a practical limit to the protection the police can offer to Ms Tash. However we believe that the duty in Fáber v. Hungary is clearly engaged in this case. The Met must therefore make clear to Ms Tash, if it hasn’t already, the steps it proposes to take in order to facilitate her right to speak in Hyde Park. In addition, the Met should make clear to the public, in general terms, how it proposes to carry out its positive duty to protect freedom of speech against intimidatory violence from those seeking to silence others.

You can find a record of our correspondence with the Met about Hatun Tash here and watch her being interviewed on GB News by former FSU Director Inaya Folarin Iman here.

Free speech and the war over sex and gender

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathleen Stock, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sussex and author of Material Girls. We spoke about the transgender debate and the silencing of gender critical feminists who speak out in defence of women’s sex-based rights. One of the most revealing things she talked about was what she referred to as “reverse Voltaire”, whereby her colleagues would support her in private but side with those condemning her in public. It was the opposite of the principle that’s usually attributed to Voltaire, namely, “I disagree profoundly with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” In Kathleen’s case, it was, “I agree profoundly with what you have to say, but I will defend the right to no-platform you for saying it.”

The entire interview can be seen on our YouTube channel. FSU members are invited to all of our regular Speakeasies. The next one, scheduled for September, will be with comedian Graham Linehan. Sign-up as a member today.

Gender critical women forced out of politics

We are continuing to support our member Natalie Bird, who was barred from seeking office by the Liberal Democrats for 10 years after she wore a t-shirt bearing the slogan: “woman: adult human female.” The Lib Dems decided this statement of fact was “transphobic” and Natalie is now raising money to fight a legal battle against the party. Women who oppose trans ideology are being silenced, threatened and hounded out of politics. Help Natalie fight back by contributing to her fundraiser here.

Incidentally, it isn’t just women who are punished for raising doubts about militant trans ideology. Another of our members, James Esses, has been sacked as a volunteer at Childline and kicked off his five-year psychotherapy course for expressing reservations about encouraging children who identify as trans to undergo irreversible, life-changing medical procedures. He is now raising money to bring a case against his course provider. You can read about James’s case in the Mail on Sunday and contribute to his fundraiser here.

FSU member Rebekah Wershbale labelled “transphobe” in Labour Party training material for wearing “woman: adult human female” t-shirt

We have written to Sir Keir Starmer urging him to intervene after a member of ours, Rebekah Wershbale, discovered she is being used in a Labour Party training course as an example of a “transphobe” because she was banned from a pub for wearing a t-shirt saying “woman: adult human female”. We assisted Rebekah in securing the training material in question, which was produced by the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights, Momentum, The World Transformed, and the Labour Party LGBT+ Network as “trans political education” for party activists. The course appears to have been used all over the country by constituency parties.

Once we secured the training material, the course’s creator tried to stop Rebekah from sharing it on spurious copyright grounds – even though her name and photograph were used without her permission.

Rebekah said: “When the seriousness of the situation dawned on me I was horrified. To be singled-out as an example of a transphobic bully by someone I’d never even met or even interacted with was very disturbing, especially given that they used my name and photo. We know very well what happens to women in those crosshairs. We receive actual, real threats of violence and threats to our livelihood. Not just the vague threats of potential ‘misgendering’ or dogwhistling we’re accused of. How many people have gone through this course and seen my name and photo as an example of ‘transphobia’?

“My question is, who is being bullied here? I had no idea my name and image were being used in this way. Accusations of ‘transphobia’ have turned women’s lives upside down. I’m alarmed that this has been greenlit by the Labour Party, knowing what the potential backlash is for women in my position who refuse to play the game of pretend, and who stand up for women’s rights and biological reality.”

You can see Rebekah being interviewed about this on GB News here.

FSU member Nick Buckley talks to GB News about cancel culture

Last year, Nick Buckley MBE was fired from the award-winning charity he founded after he wrote a blog questioning the ideology behind the Black Lives Matter organisation. With our assistance he was reinstated, and the trustees who had forced him out resigned one by one. He spoke to Colin Brazier and the comedian Andrew Doyle, a member of our Advisory Council, on GB News about his experience of cancel culture.

FSU New Zealand wins plaudits

Our New Zealand sister organisation has won plaudits for commissioning research on public opinion about the country’s proposed new hate speech law (similar to Scotland’s Hate Crime and Public Order Act.) Forty three per cent of New Zealanders support the proposals, with 31% opposed and 15% undecided.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand FSU has taken up the case of Dr Raymond Richards, an historian at the University of Waikato who faces disciplinary action after he referred to flat earthers as “cranks”. A student complained and the HR department wrote to him saying it did “not expect to have a repeat of these matters”. An open letter from the New Zealand Free Speech Union has defended Dr Richards’ right to academic freedom.

Free Speech Champions attend Institute of Ideas event in Westminster

The Free Speech Champions – a group of young free speech advocates jointly sponsored by the FSU and the Battle of Ideas charity – were out in force at Open For Debate, a one-day festival organised by the Academy of Ideas on 31 July. We offered our members special discounted tickets to the event and FSU representatives were there on the day to meet attendees. The FSU and the Free Speech Champions sponsored the closing discussion of the day entitled: “How can we combat campus cancel culture?” The FSU will be collaborating with the Academy of Ideas on a two-day festival in October.

Thank you for your support of the FSU. We’re aiming to reach 10,000 members by the end of the year, so spread the word.

Kind regards,

Toby Young

Flagrant indoctrination in English schools

A classroom display produced by children at Arnhem Wharf Primary School in London

The Free Speech Union has submitted a dossier to the Department for Education (DfE) documenting instances of ideological indoctrination in 15 English schools. Teachers have a legal duty to avoid promoting partisan political views in classrooms, but we’ve found evidence that this is routinely being ignored – with the encouragement of the National Education Union, Britain’s largest teaching union, which recently published a report saying schools are “shaped by colonialism” and there is an “urgent” need to “decolonise” every subject and every stage of the school curriculum in the light of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, including educating children about “white privilege” and “anti-racism”.

In our dossier, we detailed how: a secondary school in Peckham “persistently politicised teaching” with staff circulating Black Lives Matter petitions and students encouraged to create work featuring the slogan “All Cops Are Bastards”; an academy in Wargrave distributed a “kid-friendly guide to social justice terms” that defined police as “workers chosen by, protecting and serving people in power”; and a community college told pupils that disagreeing with people of colour was “covert racism”.

Our submission to the DfE was reported by the Daily Mail and the article is essential reading. The 1996 Education Act imposes a duty to “prevent political indoctrination and secure the balanced treatment of political issues”, and schools are manifestly failing to uphold this crucial responsibility. In some cases, we suspect, they’re not even aware of this legal duty – either that, or the staff believe that depicting our society as “systemically racist” and white people as steeped in the ideology of white supremacy isn’t politically controversial but is an incontestable statement of fact. If you have an example of schools teaching about controversial issues in a politically unbalanced way please contact us.

Rather than force-feeding pupils a diet of woke political views and stifling dissent, schools should be places which value and promote freedom of expression as a fundamental British value. We wrote to the Education Secretary following the events at Batley Grammar School in March calling for the addition of “freedom of speech” to the list of British values which English schools are obliged to promote, and the DfE has replied, claiming that freedom of speech is implicit in the term “British values” and so there’s no reason to make any explicit reference to it in the guidance. We disagree and this is something we will continue to campaign for.

Success: Lisa Keogh cleared after two months’ investigation for saying women have vaginas

Our member Lisa Keogh, the 29-year-old mother-of-two and law finalist at Abertay University, has been cleared of any wrongdoing. The University investigated the ridiculous complaints against her and put her through an extremely stressful, two-month-long investigation process as she tried to complete her degree and sit her final exams. She recently spoke to GB News about the experience. Weekly newsletter readers will have seen the extensive press coverage of this shocking case. Lisa thanked the FSU, citing in particular Fraser Hudghton, our Case Management Director, “who has been on hand at all hours to answer my calls and navigate me through this”.

Stonewall’s Censorship Champions

We’ve just published our latest report, “Stonewall’s Censorship Champions“. Written by Carrie Clark and Shelley Charlesworth, it describes how the LGBT charity has imposed its views on a range of controversial issues involving trans and non-binary people on various public institutions via its Diversity Champions programme, whereby government departments, local authorities, universities, museums, galleries, theatre companies, etc., adopt its policies to secure their “Champion” status. Not only do these policies firmly side with trans people in the conflict between trans rights and sex-based women’s rights, but they often invoke the Equality Act 2010 and claim it proscribes any criticism of what’s come to be known as gender ideology. (For a detailed account of how this works in practice, see this review of how Essex University came to no-platform two gender-critical feminists written by the equalities barrister Akua Reindorf.) Carrie and Shelley note that Stonewall has begun to haemorrhage support in recent months as its overbearing, dogmatic approach has been exposed to public scrutiny and suggest that the way to restore its reputation is to promote an open, grown-up debate about LGBT issues characterised by intellectual tolerance and mutual respect.

“Sensitivity Readers” will destroy what remains of independent student journalism

We’ve written to Oxford University Students’ Union (OUSU) to protest about the requirement that student journalists should submit their work to be vetted by official “sensitivity readers”. This follows a motion by the Students’ Union complaining about “problematic articles” which are “implicitly racist or sexist”. The move will compromise the editorial independence of the Oxford Student, which is owned by OUSU. I wrote a piece for the Spectator in which I said that operating within these guidelines when I was the editor of a satirical student magazine at Oxford would have been both unwelcome and done nothing to prepare me for a career as a journalist. Two of our Free Speech Champions wrote in UnHerd, pointing out that student “sensitivity readers” aren’t confined to Oxford, but are already a fixture in many other universities, including Edinburgh.

The “decolonisation” movement sweeping British universities is a threat to academic freedom

A push to “decolonise” courses at the University of Exeter will jeopardise academic freedom and leave the University’s College of Social Sciences and International Studies open to a legal challenge. That was our warning to the Russell Group university in a letter sent last month, which it has now replied to. The subject of our complaint was the College’s requirement that academics who propose new or revised courses must include content that moves away from a “white, Eurocentric curriculum”. These faddish proposals threaten the freedom of academics to teach their subjects and pursue their research as they see fit, and do nothing to ensure that students receive a rigorous and high-quality education. Moreover, the new policy is a breach of the “Agreement on Academic Freedom” that Exeter signed with its local branch of the University and College Union. That agreement states that academics should “not be forced to instruct against their own best knowledge and conscience” and sets out various safeguards for academic freedom. The agreement was signed in 2009, a lifetime ago in the culture war, and we’ve drawn the Vice-Chancellor’s attention to this important, and apparently forgotten, commitment.

FSU’s support for the school chaplain who was referred to Prevent

We’ve lodged a complaint with the Charity Commission about Trent College, the independent CofE school in Notthingham which referred Dr Bernard Randall, the school chaplain, to Prevent for telling pupils they could question LGBT policies and make their up own minds about gay marriage and whether trans women are women. In addition to referring him to the counter-extremism programme, the school also pushed him out, something Dr Randall is now challenging in the Employment Tribunal. The letter can be read here. If you’re on Twitter, you can watch this clip of Dr Andrew Doyle, a member of the FSU’s Advisory Council, interviewing Dr Randall on GB News.

Dr Neil Thin will face no sanction from Edinburgh University

Another victory for free speech was won in June with the clearance of Dr Neil Thin, an academic at Edinburgh University who was placed under investigation after student activists complained about his “problematic” views. His sin, in their eyes, was to object to the renaming of the David Hume Tower, as well as a university conference on “Whiteness” that included sessions which white people weren’t allowed to speak at. He is a member of the Free Speech Union and we supported him throughout the lengthy investigation during which he was suspended from teaching.

New Zealand FSU wins first victory

Our sister group in New Zealand has won a major victory in New Zealand’s High Court, achieving an injunction reversing the no-platforming of a feminist group, “Speak Up For Women” (SUFW), by the Palmerston North City Council and its libraries.

SUFW is controversial because it rejects “gender theory”, prompting activists to brand it a “hate group” and refer to its members as “TERFs” (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists). The event was part of a nationwide tour to discuss a bill that’s currently before the New Zealand Parliament which would allow people to change their gender simply by making a declaration.

The Court said that the Council was wrong to ban the group. The Judge went on to say: “There is sufficient evidence before me at this stage to be clear that SUFW cannot rationally be described as a ‘hate group’ in the sense that term can be relevant in making decisions about the extent to which a particular group should be allowed to exercise its rights of free speech and freedom of assembly.”

Particularly satisfying was the Judge’s application of the New Zealand Court of Appeal decision issued earlier this year where the NZ Free Speech Union’s predecessor organisation – the Free Speech Coalition – was partially successful in an appeal over a similar council “no-platforming” case involving two controversial Canadian speakers. The Union is currently seeking leave to appeal to New Zealand’s Supreme Court for judicial guidance on balancing security concerns with free speech and to stop the no-platforming of controversial speakers on spurious health and safety grounds.

Free speech: how can we combat campus cancel culture?

The FSU is sponsoring an event at the Battle of Ideas mini-festival on the new Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill and resisting cancel culture on university campuses. Professor Eric Kaufmann of our Advisory Council will be on the panel. Further details can be found here.

We are delighted to be partnering with the Battle of Ideas for their live, one-day event, Open for Debate, on Saturday 31st July at Church House, Westminster, London. Sessions include Free speech: how can we combat campus cancel culture?, Beyond Culture Wars: how to argue better in an age of conformity and What does the Sewell Report mean for education? The excellent line-up of speakers across the entire day includes Eric Kaufmann, Dennis Hayes, Tony Sewell, Calvin Robinson, Claire Fox and Arif Ahmed. The Free Speech Champions will also be there manning a stall, so do come along and say hello.

If you have children currently studying for A-levels or at university, this would be a great event to bring them along to.

Polish community newspaper saved

Thanks to all of you who donated to the appeal for Polish-community newspaper Nowy Czas. It faced ruin after a vexatious libel case and a string of judicial errors. But the claim against it has been dropped. We’re proud to have played a part in defending freedom of the press.

Watch: The Online Safety Bill’s threat to free speech

The Government says the Online Safety Bill will make the UK “the safest place in the world to go online”. We say it will restrict online free speech to a degree almost unprecedented in any democracy and empower Ofcom, which it proposes to make the new social media regulator, to censor controversial views.

Our two experts discussing the Bill were the FSU’s Director of Research Dr Radomir Tylecote and Matthew Lesh, Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute. Rado and Matthew are co-authors of the FSU’s Briefing “You’re On Mute: The Online Safety Bill and what the Government should do instead”, a critical assessment of the Government’s Online Safety Bill. The evening was hosted by Claire Fox, Director of the Academy of Ideas and a member of the FSU’s Advisory Council. You can watch a recording of the discussion on our YouTube channel here.

Work for the FSU: we’re recruiting a new Membership Director

We’re looking to hire a part-time Membership Director. Do you have an excellent track record of managing member relationships and growing a membership organisation? Have you got strong experience in member communications and administration? Are you able to develop and deliver not-for-profit, digitally driven strategies? If so, and if you care passionately about free speech, please apply. The job will initially be for two days a week, but will grow as more members join. The salary is £45,000 – £50,000 per annum, pro rated. You can find out more here and you can apply by sending a CV and introductory letter to [email protected].

We hope you’ve enjoyed this monthly newsletter. We’re proud of the work we do, and we think it’s important. Your support is also vital. Please help us to carry on this fight by joining the Free Speech Union, and by sharing this newsletter. We currently have about 8,300 members, but we want to get to 10,000 by the end of the year. We also hope to open affiliate groups across the Anglosphere – and you can see the website of our New Zealand affiliate here. The United States will be next.

Kind regards,

Toby Young

Cambridge backtracks over Maoist shaming website

The University of Cambridge took down a website last Monday that would have enabled members of the University to make anonymous complaints about students and staff for “micro-aggressions” and other non-crimes. The published list of offences included giving someone a “backhanded compliment” and referring to a woman as a “girl”. The Free Speech Union wrote to the Canadian Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, threatening legal action. We reproduce, below, an article in the Telegraph about the climbdown.

Cambridge removes website where dons can be reported for “raising an eyebrow”

by Camilla Turner and Pravina Rudra

Cambridge University has taken down a website which said dons could be reported for “raising an eyebrow” at students.

It comes just days after The Telegraph exposed the university’s new anonymous reporting site which stated that academics could be committing a “micro-aggression” if they gave backhanded compliments, turned their backs on certain people or referred to a woman as a girl.

Dons had accused the university of trampling on free speech, saying the reporting system would foster a culture “akin to that of a police state”. Cambridge’s Vice-Chancellor Prof Stephen Toope is also facing a legal challenge over the contents of the website.

Prof Toope said that since the website’s launch last week, “it has come to light that certain ancillary material was included in error”. He explained that the entire website had been taken offline while the material in question was removed, adding that the university had launched an investigation into how it was included in the first place.

“I believe that some of the statements and examples in this material go beyond the approved policy framework and would undermine its impact,” he said.

“The website has been temporarily taken down while that material is removed. I have asked senior staff to look into how this error occurred.”

The row over the website was set to escalate after the Free Speech Union (FSU) threatened to take Prof Toope to court.

Toby Young, general secretary of the FSU, wrote to the Vice-Chancellor claiming that the website and policy “proposed a system of policing speech and everyday interaction” which would be “inconsistent” with its duty to uphold free speech.

He pointed out that section 43 of the Education Act 1986 requires universities to take reasonably practicable steps to secure freedom of speech within the law for employees.

“This policy, as you must be aware, would radically interfere with how your academics teach, argue with and learn from students, as well as how students interact with each other,” Mr Young said.

“It would mean academics and students were under constant threat of being reported and investigated for having committed some wholly innocent but perceived slight, which would inevitably have a chilling effect on interactions that, in a university, should be free and unguarded.” 

Mr Young added that should the policy reappear in anything like its original form, the FSU would “seek to challenge its lawfulness in the High Court”.

Last week, a list of potential offences were published by Cambridge on a new website on which academics and students can anonymously report “inappropriate” behaviour.

The site had been created as part of a “Change the Culture” initiative that includes a series of policies and resources aimed at “clarifying expectations” about behaviour.

The new behaviour resources explained that micro-aggressions are everyday “slights, indignities, put-downs and insults” to which minority groups are subjected.

A list of examples was provided on the website, including asking someone “where are you really from?” and misgendering a person, especially if they have already shared their pronouns.

The site claimed that micro-aggressions also included “behaviours such as a change in body language when responding to those of a particular characteristic, for example, raising eyebrows when a black member of staff or student is speaking, dismissing a staff or student who brings up race and/or racism in a teaching and learning or work setting”.

One Cambridge don told The Telegraph: “My hope is that they have recognised that the regime is at the very least on the borders of lawfulness.

“This is not just about the law. It is about the entire culture. This policy suggests that Cambridge dons and students are not capable of dealing with ordinary interpersonal friction in day-to-day social interactions.

“What kind of message are we sending to the next generation if we say the solution to someone offending you is to run to the authorities and report them anonymously?”

Earlier this month, a new bill on academic freedom was featured in the Queen’s Speech, which Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said will end “the chilling effect of censorship on campus once and for all”. Universities in England could face fines if they fail to protect free speech on campus under tougher legislation.

Cambridge fallout

The proposed new reporting website came in for considerable criticism in the press. Writing in the Telegraph, FSU Director Douglas Murray advised Cambridge alumni to withhold donations until the Vice-Chancellor had resigned. “Permit me to commit a macro-aggression against the Canadian lawyer currently trying to run one of our great universities into the ground,” he wrote. “I would like to ask him – and think more people should join in doing so – ‘Who do you think you are? What right do you think you have to tell people which facial muscles to move? This is a great university, not a playpen filled with your lurid and bizarre phantasms.'”

Charles Moore, the former editor of the Telegraph, also weighed in. “Prof Toope, who has made repeated speeches in praise of Xi Jinping’s China, is developing methods of denunciation of which the People’s Republic would be proud,” he wrote.

In addition, 25 leading Cambridge academics, including members of the FSU’s Advisory Council, wrote a letter to the Telegraph demanding that whatever replaces the website must be “fully compatible with the right to unfettered freedom of speech and expression within the law as well as with the university’s core commitment to the free and fearless discussion of ideas”.

Fraser Myers, an Assistant Editor of Spiked, warned that “woke politics has been so enthusiastically embraced by our elite institutions and the authorities, sitting out of the culture wars is not an option.”

The reporting website has now been put back up, but it’s a pale shadow of the original. The list of reportable offences has disappeared, it doesn’t accept anonymous complaints and – critically – the site doesn’t ask people to name the person they’re complaining about. That’s a good outcome and all those who raised the alarm deserve credit. It shows that attacks on free speech can be repelled provided we act quickly, decisively and in unison. It’s now time to turn out attention to other universities that have created snitching portals, of which there are several. More news on that soon.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill Briefing

A few weeks ago we produced a briefing paper on the Online Safety Bill, and we’ve just created another on the Higher Education Bill. We are not so keen on the former, but very much in favour of the latter.

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will strengthen protections for free speech and academic freedom in English universities by imposing more robust legal duties on Higher Education Providers and Student Unions. These include the duty to take reasonably practicable steps to protect the free speech of academic staff, non-academic staff, students and visitors to universities; to actively promote freedom of speech; and to protect academics’ freedom to question and test received wisdom, put forward new ideas and express controversial opinions.

There are already several laws protecting academic free speech on the statute books, but they are more honoured in the breach than the observance and this Bill will create some practical mechanisms for enforcing those laws, including allowing civil claims to be brought against Higher Education Providers and Student Unions, as well as creating an avenue of complaint through the Office for Students via a new ‘Free Speech Champion’. These are positive steps that will further protect freedom of speech on campus.

In the briefing, we’ve summarised the evidence that has already been compiled that free speech is in crisis in Britain’s universities, citing research by the University and College Union, Policy Exchange and ADF International, and we’ve added to this by drawing on the FSU’s case files. Of the 500 or so free speech cases we’ve been involved in over the past year, about 100 have involved university students or academics. We’ve highlighted some of the most significant of these in the appendix to the briefing.

We also consider some of the most common criticisms of the Bill and do our best to rebut them. You can find the new briefing document here.

Trainee teacher spared after FSU intervention over Mohammed cartoons

We’re delighted to report that the trainee teacher at Manchester Metropolitan University who was disciplined for criticising the teaching profession for not standing up for the teacher in Batley who was forced into hiding after showing his students a cartoon of Mohammed will face no further action. After expressing this sentiment in an email to his course supervisor, in which he also said he’d have no hesitation in showing his students a cartoon of Mohammed, he was placed under investigation and threatened with referral to a “fitness to practise” panel, which could have resulted in him being banned from teaching. He is a member of the FSU and asked for our help, and we took up his case, which included writing to the head of the Teacher Education School and accompanying him to a hearing. The University has now decided not to refer him to a “fitness to practise” panel. In an email to us afterwards, he wrote: “Thanks to the FSU I am not going to be disciplined by MMU for blasphemy. I won’t ever forget the only friends I had when it really counted.”

Victory in Kent

We’ve achieved another success, this time at Kent University. A first year student and member of the FSU was placed under investigation after classmates complained about comments he’d made in the course of a debate about George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. Nothing he said was remotely inflammatory or unreasonable; he just didn’t toe the progressive line. We wrote to the University reminding them of their obligation to uphold freedom of speech and the student will now face no further action.

Defending Free Speech At the University of Abertay

Lisa Keogh, final year law student at Abertay University. She voiced her opinion during an online discussion on gender, feminism and the law and was reported to the University by her fellow students for saying, among other things, that women were not as physically strong as men. Pic shows Lisa at Lunan Bay, Angus. Photographer: Paul Reid

We’ve been busy defending Lisa Keogh, a member of the Free Speech Union and a fourth year law student at Abertay University in Dundee. During a seminar on gender, feminism and the law, she expressed the opinion that women aren’t as strong as men and, for that reason, trans women shouldn’t be able to compete against biological women in mixed martial arts tournaments. Lisa is a mature student and a mother-of-two – as well as the first person in her family to go to university – and wasn’t aware that this common-sense view is considered “hate speech” by woke students. She was duly reported to the university authorities, who placed her under investigation, even though she was in the midst of her final exams.

You can read about Lisa’s case in MailOnline, as well as read an interview with Lisa in Femail and listen to an interview she did on Woman’s Hour. She has attracted widespread support, both in the media – see this piece by Fraser Hudghton, our Case Management Director, and this piece by Jim Spence, a former Rector of Dundee University – and in the House of Commons, where the SNP MP Joanna Cherry has spoken out in her defence. We hoped that Abertay would dismiss Lisa’s case after a preliminary investigation, but instead the University has referred it to a student board, with the hearing due to take place on June 7th.

This is a genuinely shocking example of someone being punished for exercising their lawful right to free speech – and, moreover, for expressing an opinion that the vast majority of people would agree with. As Fraser Myers wrote in the Spectator, “The next time someone tells you campus censorship is a myth, made up by right-wing tabloids and leapt upon by a Tory government keen to wage a ‘culture war’ against the left, tell them to Google ‘Lisa Keogh’.”

Free Speech Champions

In case you missed it, the Free Speech Champions – a joint initiative overseen by the FSU and the Battle of Ideas – organised a great online discussion between some top journalists – Bari Weiss, Helen Lewis, Katie Herzog and Mick Hume – about why journalists working for elite newspapers and broadcasters are becoming less concerned with uncovering the truth and holding the powerful to account and more interested in using their platforms to advance the cause of social justice. You can watch a video recording of that conversation here.

In addition, the Champions have been hard at work defending free speech. You can read articles by them in Areo magazine here, here and here.

And if you want to watch me interviewing Quentin Letts about his new book – Stop Bloody Bossing Me About – in our first online ‘Speakeasy’ you can do that on our YouTube channel here.

Join the FSU Today

We 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 by. Click here to sign up today.

We currently have about 8,200 members, but we want to get to 10,000 by the end of the year. We also hope to open affiliate groups across the Anglosphere – and you can see the website of our New Zealand affiliate here. The United States will be next.

Kind regards,

Toby Young

Monthly Newsletter

Home Secretary: ‘Non-crime hate incidents’ should not be included on police records

Following the publication of our Free Speech Union Manifesto last month, we were delighted to see Home Secretary Priti Patel ask the College of Policing to drop its guidance telling officers to record ‘non-crime hate incidents’ on people’s police records. Scrapping this Orwellian practice was the first point in our manifesto. A Home Office source said, “These so-called ‘non-crime hate incidents’ have a chilling effect on free speech and potentially stop people expressing views legally and legitimately. If people are found to have done nothing wrong the police shouldn’t punish them.”

Our Director of Research Dr Radomir Tylecote called for their removal in March, describing how anonymous denunciation was leading to people losing jobs or job offers on the basis of ‘non-crimes’ being placed on their police records as they show-up in enhanced criminal record checks. Case in point: Douglas Kedge, an 85-year-old retired teacher, was told by police that his politely written letter to an anti-abortion campaigner had been recorded as a ‘non-crime hate incident’ after the campaigner filed a complaint against him. He is now concerned he will be prevented from volunteering at his local primary school where he’d planned to help children catchup on the work they’ve missed during the pandemic.

The Times welcomed the Home Secretary’s move with an editorial arguing that “officers should not be tasked with policing the boundaries of public debate”. The news was hailed as a triumph for free speech by our Deputy Director of Research Emma Webb and welcomed by me in the Mail.

Professor Andrew Tettenborn of our Legal Advisory Council wrote in the Spectator, “There is something very creepy about the state demanding that the police log permanently anything people say, however lawful, merely because someone has complained about it.” Gathering intelligence about implicit threats of violence is a legitimate aim, but the existing policy went far beyond that, as the case of Mr Kedge illustrates.

As our supporters will know, we are assisting the ex-policeman Harry Miller in his attempt to have the policy of recording non-crime hate incidents be declared illegal. He is currently awaiting the verdict of the Court of Appeal, having failed to persuade the High Court to declare NCHIs unlawful, as he explained in the Critic. Thanks to all those who’ve contributed to our fighting fund.

Warning over Welsh Government’s Race Equality Action Plan

Earlier this week, Professor Tettenborn wrote on our behalf to Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford to object to proposals contained in the Welsh Government’s Race Equality Action Plan, which is the subject of an ongoing consultation.

We registered our concern about plans for children in Welsh schools to be taught an explicitly ideological approach to race, with concepts like ‘white privilege’ and the existence of pervasive institutional racism in the UK to be taught as fact. These concepts should be rigorously scrutinised and debated, with more than one perspective being taught.

Among other things, the plan pledges to make “acts of micro-aggression” a “thing of the past” by 2030. This, we said, was an ill-defined term and likely to have a seriously detrimental effect on free speech in Wales.

You can read Professor Tettenborn’s letter here. The First Minister’s office has acknowledged our letter and promised to respond shortly.

Success! Ofcom declines to investigate Julia Hartley-Brewer

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We wrote to Ofcom earlier this month, urging them to take account of Julia Hartley-Brewer’s right to free speech in its investigation of the 203 complaints it has received about her appearance on ITV’s This Morning on 15 April. Her sin was to make fun of Meghan Merkle, the Duchess of Sussex. (You can read about the brouhaha in the Mail.) Happily, Ofcom replied to our letter saying it had decided not to investigate the matter any further. We will strike that up as another victory for the FSU.

Good luck to the New Zealand Free Speech Union!

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We’re pleased to see the launch of an affiliate group in New Zealand – the first of many, we hope. Our sister group’s mission is to “fight for, protect, and expand New Zealanders’ rights for freedom of speech, of conscience, and of intellectual inquiry. We envision a flourishing New Zealand civil society that values and protects vigorous debate, dissenting ideas, and freedom of speech as cultural cornerstones.”

The mission statement continues:

“As a trade union, we will promote members’ collective employment interests with a particular focus on the protection of their freedom of speech from employer interference. If you feel that your job could be placed in jeopardy because of thoughts or opinions you express in your private life, or if you simply want the reassurance of having the support of a community dedicated to defending free speech, then become a member today.”

If you think there’s no need for a Free Speech Union in New Zealand, think again. The Mail on Sunday revealed this week that the Wairarapa book festival has decided to drop its annual Harry Potter children’s quiz following J.K. Rowling’s expression of gender critical views last year. If the creator of our most successful export since James Bond can be declared persona non grata, anyone can.

FSU helps member being investigated by Chartered Insurance Institute

One of our members, an insurance broker, recently became embroiled in a Twitter spat with a woman who’d had a miscarriage and whom he felt was neglecting the impact that losing an unborn child can have on expectant fathers. Complaints were made and he was placed under investigation by the Chartered Insurance Institute. Had his professional body kicked him out, he wouldn’t have been able to earn a living. He reached out to us and we helped him make peace with the offended party, after which the investigation was dropped.

Another minor victory – Leeds drops investigation of FSU member

The University of Leeds has dropped charges against a student and FSU member who was critical of Black Lives Matter in an online class. Other students were offended by his criticism – even though they were mild and expressed politely – and complained to the University, which responded by investigating him for a non-summary offence. If found guilty, the third-year student faced possible expulsion. The FSU wrote a letter to the University on his behalf and, with the help of FSU Legal Advisory Council member Rebecca Butler, the student was fully exonerated after a disciplinary hearing. In its letter to the student informing him of the outcome of the investigation, Leeds affirmed its commitment to free speech and freedom of expression within the law.

New FSU Case Officer – Benjamin Jones

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Ben has joined us from a communications job at the University of Oxford. In addition to working on our case team supporting our members, he writes the weekly newsletter and runs our social media accounts. He is completing a PhD on ex-Muslim campaigners in the UK, a group for whom free speech is absolutely critical – and very much under threat.

We’ve had a busy month. In addition to dealing with daily queries from our members, we’ve published a briefing paper on the Government’s forthcoming Online Safety Bill – which we think poses a major threat to free speech – and fired off several letters that you can read in our Blog

Kind regards,

Signature: Toby Young

Toby Young

The Inexorable Rise of Cancel Culture

March has been a bad month for free speech. The Scottish Parliament passed a new censorious hate crime law, whose shortcomings we drew attention to in this submission to the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament last year and which the Law Commission of England and Wales would like to see replicated in Westminster. Numerous public figures got cancelled, including three people who had the temerity to challenge Meghan Markle’s claims about the Royal Family and the British media in her Oprah Winfrey interview. Piers Morgan lost his job on Good Morning Britain after he refused to apologise for saying he didn’t believe a word she said – something we complained about in a letter to the CEO of ITV. Ian Murray was forced to resign as executive director of the Society of Editors after issuing a statement headlined: “UK media not bigoted.” And Sharon Osbourne was axed from an American chat show after telling her co-presenter she doesn’t think Piers Morgan is a racist just because he doesn’t like Meghan.

And that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. March also saw the cancellation of children’s author Dr Seuss, the banjo player for Mumford and Sons (for praising a book by a centre-right journalist), Gordon Beattie, the founder of PR company Beattie Communications, James Moore, an employee of NHS Wales, Keith Hann, director of corporate affairs at Iceland (for making disparaging remarks about the Welsh language), Alexi McCammond, the 27 year-old editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, who was forced to step down when faintly inappropriate tweets she’d written as a 17-year-old came to light, and Elizabeth Heverin, a 19 year-old student at Aberdeen University who was banned from her students union after saying the words “Rule Britannia”. No wonder Nobel laureate Sir Kazuo Ishiguro told journalists he was concerned for the next generation of writers who will have to self-censor in case an “anonymous lynch mob will turn up online and make their lives a misery”.

The Free Speech Union is One Year Old

Trevor Phillips speaks at the FSU’s launch party a year ago

The launch party for the Free Speech Union took place on 26th February last year, making the FSU almost exactly a year old. In its first year, the FSU has helped hundreds of members push back against efforts to punish them for exercising their lawful right to free speech, including bus drivers, social workers, council employees, civil servants, police officers, fire fighters, gender-critical feminists, students, teachers and academics. It has also published several briefing documents, submitted responses to numerous consultations and organised a couple of comedy nights in the brief window when we were allowed out of our homes last year. We’ve now got 12 employees, nearly 8,000 members, and are talking to free speech activists all over the world about opening overseas branches. I don’t think it could have gone much better.

This month, I’m delighted to report on a string of victories.

Inaya Folarin Iman Launches the Free Speech Champions

Inaya Folarin Iman

Inaya Folarin Iman, a Founding Director of the Free Speech Union, is launching a new venture today called the Free Speech Champions Project, along with a group of students and recent graduates. (The Mail on Sunday ran a story about it yesterday.) Below is an extract from the press release.

The Free Speech Champions Project is an exciting new initiative which aims to inspire the next generation about the importance of free speech. It has been set up by a socially and politically diverse group of university students and recent graduates to create a space for challenging thinking. It will do this by creating a network of young ‘free speech champions’ across the country who will host events on free speech, support and encourage the development of free speech societies, and develop the information, ideas and arguments about free speech needed to inspire the next generation. The Champions will collaborate with individuals, groups and organisations who share their commitment to free speech.

The Free Speech Champions Project is led by Inaya Folarin Iman, a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Leeds, and developed in collaboration with the Free Speech Union and the Battle of Ideas charity.

Inaya said: “Freedom of speech is essential for open enquiry to flourish. Social and human progress depends on courageous individuals who are prepared to think for themselves. Too often, the places where free speech should be valued most highly – universities and online spaces – are where it is in most jeopardy. We need to re-articulate why free speech matters, especially to young people.”

A 2020 survey carried out by ADF International revealed that 40% of students self-censor out of concern for their future careers.

Inaya said: “A lot of attention has been paid to the problem of explicit censorship on campus – no-platforming of speakers, the closing down of debates. It is a good sign that a lot of people instinctively feel that this is wrong. However, a more subtle pressure to self-censor has also become far too prevalent in places of education. This is not about being ‘polite’. Too many young people are holding themselves back from exploring ideas because they fear the potentially negative consequences of using the wrong words or of honestly sharing what is on their minds.”

The Free Speech Champions Project will go to where young people most need the space to think and speak freely – schools, universities and online communities – and inspire support for freedom of speech.

Toby Young, the General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, said: “The Free Speech Union is delighted to be supporting this project, along with the Battle of Ideas charity. If free speech is going to endure it’s essential that young people understand why it matters and needs to be defended.”

You can find out more about the Free Speech Champions Project by visiting its website. And if you’re a student or recent graduate who would like to get involved, please fill out the form on this page.

Fighting Back in 2020

This is the final newsletter of 2020 – and what a year it’s been! When I launched the Free Speech Union with a group of likeminded people in February I said free speech had never been in greater peril than at any time since the Second World War. But in the past 10 months it’s become significantly more imperilled. The coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have combined to produce a kind of lockdown of the mind. If you challenge the prevailing orthodoxy in either of these areas you risk losing your livelihood – and many good people have. Forget the Second World War. It’s hard to think of a time in Britain or America in the last 200 years when there was less tolerance for dissenting voices.

Luckily, the Free Speech Union has been able to stand up for a few of these mavericks. In this newsletter I’ve highlighted a few of our success stories.

Another Triumph for the Free Speech Union

Professor Dorian Abbot

The Free Speech Union can chalk up another victory.

Last week, we launched a petition in defence of Professor Dorian Abbot, a tenured faculty member in the Department of Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago, who had come under attack from students and postdocs in his department for a series of videos he posted to YouTube expressing his reservations about the way Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts have been discussed and implemented on campus.

In these videos – since taken down – Prof Abbot raised several misgivings about DEI efforts and expressed concern that a climate of fear is “making it extremely difficult for people with dissenting viewpoints to voice their opinions”. The slides for each of Prof Abbot’s videos can be found here, and his own account of events and his opinions can be found here. Nowhere in these materials does Prof Abbot offer any opinion that a reasonable person would consider to be hateful or otherwise offensive.

Shortly after uploading the videos, Abbot’s concerns were confirmed when 58 students and postdocs of the Department of Geophysical Sciences, and 71 other graduate students and postdocs from other University of Chicago departments, posted a letter saying that Prof Abbot’s opinions “threaten the safety and belonging of all underrepresented groups within the [Geophysical Sciences] department” and “represent an aggressive act” towards research and teaching communities. The letter also made 11 demands, many of which would serve to ostracise and shame Prof Abbot, while stripping him of departmental titles, courses, and privileges.

Another Victory for the Free Speech Union

On 7th October, the journalist and Brexit campaigner Darren Grimes received an email from a Metropolitan Police officer notifying him that he was being investigated for the crime of stirring up racial hatred under the Public Order Act 1986 and asking him to submit himself for an interview at Kingston Police Station under caution. This was because of a broadcast interview Darren had done with Dr David Starkey at the end of June in which the historian had used the phrase “damn blacks”.

This was an unprecedented attack on the freedom of the press. Dr Starkey’s remarks didn’t come anywhere near meeting the threshold for stirring up racial hatred – he was using the word “damn” for emphasis, not to condemn black people, and he praised the contributions BAME people had made to British society in the same interview. But even if they did meet the threshold, that’s no reason to investigate Darren. Are journalists now going to be held criminally responsible if the people they interview say something potentially unlawful? On 2nd February, I appeared on Good Morning Britain to debate Kehinde Andrews, a Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham University. In the course of that debate, he said “the British Empire did more harm than the Nazis” and whiteness was a form of “psychosis”. Are the Metropolitan Police now going to arrest Piers Morgan for interviewing Professor Andrews on the grounds that his remarks could have stirred up hatred against white people?

Luckily, Darren is a member of the Free Speech Union so I was able to find him a top criminal solicitor in the form of Luke Gittos. In addition, I helped Darren publicise his case and before long he’d attracted support from across the political spectrum, including Sajid Javid, the ex-Home Secretary, Tim Farron, the former leader of the Lib Dems, and Ash Sarkar, the left-wing activist.