Sacked for celebrating the end of lockdown

Our member Jeremy Sleath urgently needs your help. In September 2020, after 17 years of loyal service, he was dismissed from his job as a Senior Conductor with West Midland Trains.

Jeremy’s offence? He had celebrated the end of lockdown by posting on his personal Facebook account: “Thank F*** our pubs open up today. We cannot let our way of life become like some sort of Muslim alcohol-free caliphate just to beat Covid-19.”

One anonymous complaint about this post was all it took to get Jeremy sacked. He decided to take West Midland Trains to the Employment Tribunal but couldn’t afford a lawyer. Nonetheless, he managed to persuade the judge at a preliminary hearing that this comments were a legitimate expression of his secular philosophical beliefs and the judge said he could go ahead and take his case to the Tribunal. (You can read about that victory in MailOnline.) But now he needs our support to continue the fight.

Jeremy is living off modest savings with no income to speak of and cannot afford a lawyer without our help. We’ve linked him up with a formidable legal team, but the estimated bill will be £15,500. The full hearing into his unfair dismissal claim is due to take place on 23 September so we have less than three weeks to raise the money. Please donate to his crowdfunder here.

Two more victories for the FSU

We’ve dealt with around 700 cases since our founding in February of last year – and won most of them. But we’re not allowed to talk about some of them, either because the other side insists on confidentiality as a condition of settling, or because the member in question doesn’t want anything about their case to come up on Google up if an employer does a background check on them – which is fair enough.

This month we’ve had two big wins. In the first of these we won a five-figure settlement from an employer on behalf of our member, and in the second we achieved an outcome that our member was delighted with. Alas, we cannot share any more detail about those cases without breaching confidentiality.

Remember, we wouldn’t be able to achieve these victories without the support of our members and donors.

Piers Morgan: another victory for free speech

We can’t claim all the credit for Piers Morgan’s recent free speech victory, but we like to think Ofcom took our arguments into account when deciding to exonerate him following the 57,000 complaints it received about his commentary on Harry and Meghan’s Oprah Winfrey interview on Good Morning Britain. Last March, shortly after Morgan had parted company with GMB, we wrote to the Chief Executive of ITV, copying in the head of Ofcom, making the case for Morgan’s defence. In our letter we warned the broadcaster that it was them, not Morgan, who could be in breach of Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code, given that he’d been forced out of his job as a presenter on GMB after expressing scepticism about the truthfulness of the Duchess of Sussex’s claims concerning her treatment by members of the Royal Family – something any journalist is perfectly entitled to do. And Ofcom agreed with us, ruling that penalising Morgan for his comments would be a “chilling restriction” on free speech.

You can read our press release about Morgan’s victory here and a piece I wrote for Mail+ about the case here.

FSU intervenes in case of Catholic priest barred from chaplaincy role for his religious beliefs

We have written to Professor Shearer West, the Vice-Chancellor and President of Nottingham University, asking her to reconsider the decision not to recognise the appointment of Father David Palmer as the University’s Catholic chaplain. Nottingham has 12 other chaplains of different faiths, all of whom are officially recognised, but the University has refused to grant the same honour to Father David because it objects to his opposition to abortion and euthanasia. Since that opposition is rooted in his Catholic faith, and religious or philosophical belief is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, we think this constitutes unlawful discrimination. Not surprisingly, our letter received some favourable coverage in the Catholic Herald, but it goes without saying that we’d go to bat for a chaplain of any faith who was being discriminated against in this way.

Free Speech Union wins plaudits for saving people’s jobs

The hanging of the “witches” in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1650. Photograph: Getty Images.

The columnist and historian Ruth Dudley Edwards has urged readers to join the FSU: “The Free Speech Union – set up to defend those threatened, silenced and even fired for challenging the destructive ideology of Wokeness – is already on the battlefield, saving people’s careers and growing strongly in numbers and strength. It protects people persecuted by the thought police and the witch-finders who scour social media in search of a few words that can be used to destroy heretics.”

If you’re in any doubt about how urgent it is to defend free speech, we recommend this piece about cancel culture by Anne Applebaum, another historian, in the Atlantic magazine. The following paragraph illustrates why the support of the Free Speech Union is so important when someone finds themselves targeted by a Twitchfork mob:

Here is the first thing that happens once you have been accused of breaking a social code, when you find yourself at the center of a social-media storm because of something you said or purportedly said. The phone stops ringing. People stop talking to you. You become toxic. “I have in my department dozens of colleagues – I think I have spoken to zero of them in the past year,” one academic told me. “One of my colleagues I had lunch with at least once a week for more than a decade – he just refused to speak to me anymore, without asking questions.” Another reckoned that, of the 20-odd members in his department, “there are two, one of whom has no power and another of whom is about to retire, who will now speak to me.”

FSU New Zealand rallies Kiwis against chilling new ‘hate speech’ laws

More than 10,000 New Zealanders have submitted responses to a consultation on new “hate speech” laws proposed by the Ministry of Justice thanks to an online portal created by the New Zealand FSU, our sister organisation.

Jonathan Ayling, Campaign Manager for the New Zealand FSU, said: “Ministers’ inability to explain what would be criminalised under these proposals reveals the danger they pose to free speech. Vague intention is an irresponsible way to legislate. The Government should listen to the public, and drop these proposed reforms.”

Maureen O’Bern, sacked for raising China’s human rights record

Maureen O’Bern was sacked by Wigan Council after 34 years working for them as a librarian because she objected to the involvement of a state-owned Chinese firm in a major council development. She pointed out, quite rightly, that the Council’s professed commitment to standing up for the rights of oppressed minorities should extend to the Uyghur Muslims forcibly detained in re-education camps by the Chinese authorities. We’ve been supporting Maureen and, with our help, she set out her case on talkRadio in August.

Briefing on the Law Commission’s recommendations for reforming communications offences

Last month we gave a qualified welcome to the Law Commission’s proposals about reforming the Communications Act 2003 and the Malicious Communications Act 1988, which took up many of the FSU’s suggestions in our response to the Commission’s consultation on this issue. The Commission has recommended repealing some of the more censorious communications offences, such as the charge of sending a “grossly offensive” communication which was used to prosecute the comedian Count Dankula for posting a YouTube video of his efforts to teach his girlfriend’s pug to do a Nazi salute. But we are concerned that some of the new laws the Commission has recommended in place of the repealed offences would have a chilling effect on free speech, such as the new “harms based” communications offence, where the definition of “harm” includes psychological harm.

Emma Webb, our deputy research director, has fleshed out some of these concerns in a fuller response that we’ve published in the “Briefings” section of our website. You can read that briefing here.

Battle of Ideas

The FSU will be out in force at this year’s Battle of Ideas Festival at Church House in Westminster on the weekend of the 9th and 10th of October. We’ll be organising a session, chaired by me, called “The FSU Files: How to Fight ‘Cancel Culture’ and Win” in which we’ll hear from individuals who’ve experienced first-hand what it’s like to be cancelled. But these particular individuals also have something else in common: with our help, they’ve all fought back. We will hear from them what the most effective ways are of surviving an online assassination attempt, as well as more general advice on how to persuade people that free speech is a cause worth defending.

Across the weekend, there are numerous other sessions on free speech issues that should be of interest to FSU supporters, including “Hate, Heresy and the Fight for Free Speech”, “From GB News to Ben & Jerry’s: Boycotts or Censorship?”, “Publish and Be Damned?”, “The History Wars”, “The Social Justice March through the Institutions”, “Has Coronavirus Changed Us?” and “Can Culture Survive the Culture Wars?”

I’ll be there all weekend, along with most of the FSU’s staff, encouraging others to join the FSU, so come and find us at our stall and say hello.

Buy tickets here.

Ex-Labour member shamed for “transphobic” t-shirt speaks out

We’ve been assisting our member Rebekah Wershbale since she was labelled a “transphobe” in Labour Party training materials being used across the country – all because she wore a t-shirt saying “Woman: adult human female”. She’s written for Graham Linehan’s substack The Glinner Update about her ordeal.

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, 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. Thank you for your support of the Free Speech Union.

Kind Regards,

Toby Young