Many of our members have asked us what to do if they find themselves at odds with their employers about how best to tackle prejudice and discrimination in the workplace. As I’m sure most of you will be aware, employers, as well as schools and universities, have introduced a raft of new “anti-racism” initiatives in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, from circulating suggested reading lists (Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race) to introducing mandatory unconscious bias training. Is your company or university legally entitled to put your through a disciplinary process for expressing reservations about these initiatives – circulating an alternative reading list that includes Douglas Murray’s Madness of Crowds, for instance – or for refusing to undergo diversity training? Is there a way of expressing your reservations about these initiatives that means your employer cannot legally punish you for doing so? What are the legal limits on what an employer can do to force you to assent to the “woke” orthodoxy on this issue?
Because we were getting so many questions along those lines, and dealing with so many cases of people who are being punished for dissenting from the BLM narrative, we thought it would be helpful to publish some Frequently Asked Questions on this topic. You can read them here. These will be the first in a series of FAQs we intend to publish, with the next set being about the social media policies of companies and universities and what the law says about how far they can legitimately restrict what you can say on social media, even when you make it clear you’re speaking in a purely private capacity. If you have any suggestions about other topics we should cover, please email me here.
We did a good deal of research in the course of compiling this first set of FAQs, and one of the people who helped with that research, a journalist called Carrie Clark, has written up her findings in the form of a briefing paper. Carrie looked specifically at the Implicit Association Test, a diagnostic tool that sits at the heart of most forms of diversity training. It’s worth reading in full, but the short version is that this test has been almost completely discredited in the scientific literature since it was first devised in 1998. You can read a summary of Carrie’s paper here.
By the way, you might find this interesting: an article by the Conservative MP Ben Bradley on why he is refusing to undergo Unconscious Bias Training in the House of Commons.
Speaker Gets No-Platformed; Free Speech Union Gets Her Re-Platformed
The FSU had to swing into action recently when Caroline Farrow, a Catholic journalist, was no-platformed by the University of Exeter Debating Society. Caroline was due to speak on Friday, 18th September in a debate on whether prostitution should be legalised, but she was notified at 11am the day before that she’d been disinvited because of her religious beliefs on a range of LGBT issues. This was a clear case of no-platforming and a breach of the University of Exeter’s Freedom of Speech policy.
As soon as Caroline told us what had happened, I wrote to the newly-installed Vice-Chancellor of Exeter, Professor Lisa Roberts, letting her know that if she didn’t intervene to make sure Caroline’s invitation was reinstated the University would be in breach of its legal duty to protect free speech, as set out in the Education (Nº 2) Act 1986, which was passed, in part, to prevent the no-platforming of visiting speakers at British universities. In particular, it would be a breach of s.43(a) of the Act, which requires universities to “take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers”. This Act and these words are referred to in Exeter’s Freedom of Speech policy.
Thankfully, after receiving my letter, Professor Roberts acted quickly and decisively. I received a response from the Vice-Chancellor’s Office at 9.22pm on the day I sent the letter informing me that Caroline had now been re-invited and, when I checked with her, she confirmed this. The following day – the day of the debate – there was another attempt to no-platform Caroline and the Vice-Chancellor had to intervene for a second time to put a stop to it. When the censorious members of the Debating Society’s committee were repulsed they took to Facebook to express their displeasure, saying they’d only agreed to re-platform Caroline because of the University’s intervention. So top marks to the Vice-Chancellor for holding firm.
You can read an account of the affair on the FSU’s website here, as well as a shorter version on Guido Fawkes here. The FSU also interviewed Caroline about the episode for its YouTube channel and you can see that here.
As Guido said, “They would have got away with it if wasn’t for that pesky Free Speech Union…”
The Government’s Internet Censorship Law
We published our first ever briefing paper earlier this month – a stark warning about the risk the Government’s proposed new internet censorship law poses to free speech. Last year, Sajid Javid, then the Home Secretary, boasted that Britain would soon have “the toughest internet laws in the world” and unveiled a White Paper describing how the Government intended to censor social media companies like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Called Online Harms, the White Paper said the UK would soon pass a law that was similar to Germany’s 2017 “NetzDG”, a horrific piece of legislation that has inspired President Lukashenko of Belarus, Vladimir Putin and the Venezuelan Government to introduce similar censorship laws. Under the proposed new regulations, social media companies will be compelled to remove material “that may directly or indirectly cause harm” even if it is “not necessarily illegal”. As an example of the kind of legal content the new regulator will prohibit, the White Paper singled out “offensive material”, as if being offended is a type of harm the public should be protected from by the state.
If this law is passed it will infringe the speech rights of tens of thousands of social media users – perhaps even hundreds of thousands – who will see their content regularly censored by companies anxious to avoid the swingeing fines the regulator will use as an enforcement mechanism. We need to organise to stop this legislation being brought before Parliament and later in the year the Free Speech Union will be unveiling an alternative way of dealing with the concerns people have about the unregulated internet (such as instructions on how to make bombs) without interfering with people’s right to free speech.
You can read the briefing doc here. It was written by Dr Radomir Tylecote, the FSU’s Research Director. Rado made a YouTube video about his report that you can view here, and wrote a summary for the Telegraph that you can read here and another for Spiked that you can read here.
If the Government gets its way, Ofcom will be the new internet regulator – one of the reasons the FSU’s attempt to judicially review Ofcom’s “coronavirus guidance” in the High Court is so important. As you’ll recall, Ofcom issued guidance to broadcasters at the beginning of the lockdown, warning them to exercise caution when inviting guests on to the airwaves who were critical of the public health advice being disseminated by the state in case it made the public less likely to follow that advice. We think this is a breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression, and have applied to the High Court to have the guidance declared unlawful. We’ve submitted all the papers and the Court will shortly make a decision about whether or not we’re allowed to make our case before a judge. If we can rein in Ofcom now, perhaps it will be more circumspect when it becomes the internet censor in due course.
One risk of bringing an action like this is that if we lose we’ll have to pay the other side’s costs, which may be substantial. However, we won’t be risking your membership dues since we regard this case as falling outside the activities we’ve asked you to fund. Consequently, we’ve asked the Court to cap our liability at whatever we manage to raise in our GoFundMe Fighting Fund – over £50,000 so far. The more money that’s in that pot, the more likely the Court is to let our case proceed, so please consider making a donation.
New Members of Staff
Thanks to the number of people who’ve joined the FSU, as well as the donations we’ve received, we’ve been able to hire some more members of staff.
Dr Jan Macvarish, Education and Events Director
Dr Jan Macvarish is our new Education and Events Director who will be overseeing our programme of events, as well as our educational activities in sixth forms and universities. Dr Macvarish is a former academic who has spent more than 20 years defending freedom of speech from ever-shifting attack. In the late-1990s, she established The Maverick Club, an experimental “roving” members club that created space for “masterless and unorthodox” thinking. She can be contacted on [email protected].
Fraser Hudghton, Case Management Director
Fraser Hudghton is our new Case Management Director. Before joining the FSU, Fraser was Head of Legal Member Engagement, England and Wales, at the Law Society of Scotland, and before that he worked as a Parliamentary Office Manager, Advisor and Researcher in the Scottish Parliament. He can be contacted at [email protected].
Andrew Mahon, Case Officer
Andrew Mahon is a Case Officer. For most of his working life Andrew has been a classical singer, but he has also worked in military intelligence and as a freelance journalist and researcher. He can be contacted at [email protected].
Matthew Martin, Case Officer
Matthew Martin is a Case Officer. Matthew is a philosophy graduate with a background in teaching English as a foreign language. He can be contacted at [email protected].
The Critic Subscription Offer
Michael Mosbacher, the Publisher and Co-Editor of The Critic, a magazine that I and many of the people connected to the FSU contribute to, has come up with a special subscription offer for members and supporters of the FSU.
The Critic is delighted to offer Free Speech Union members and supporters a year’s subscription to Britain’s new magazine of ideas for open-minded readers – for £20, less than half price. Just click here.
The Critic is willing to ask the questions that others find too difficult – or too dangerous – to ask. We take politics, culture and the arts seriously – but do not neglect antiques, food, fashion, gardening, shooting and taurine endeavours. We intend to ensure that we have something to offend all tastes each month – alongside much to reflect upon.
Our regulars include FSU officers Toby Young, Douglas Murray, and Nigel Biggar and FSU Advisory Board members David Starkey, David Rose, Andrew Doyle, Matt Ridley, Andrew Roberts, Lionel Shriver, Doug Stokes, Jeremy Jennings, Andrew Tettenborn, and Wanjiru Njoya. Other contributors include Jonathan Meades, Daniel Johnson, Julie Bindel, Tibor Fischer, Lisa Hilton, Hannah Betts, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Titania McGrath and artists Adam Dant and Miriam Elia.
Click here to subscribe to The Critic today and save over £20 on your first year’s subscription. We are confident you will enjoy it.
The Workers of England Union
A quick reminder that if you’re worried you might be put through a disciplinary procedure at work because your beliefs are at odds with your employer’s, then you should consider joining the Workers of England Union. The WEU has won tens of thousands of pounds for members whose philosophical beliefs have been discriminated against.
We’ve negotiated a deal with the WEU whereby you can become a member for a fee of £25. Unlike other unions, the WEU will go to bat for its members as soon as they sign up. If you’d like to take advantage of this offer, you can join online here, but don’t forget to email them here first, letting them know you’re a member of the FSU.
Thanks again for becoming a part of the Free Speech Union. Building a new membership organisation during the coronavirus crisis hasn’t been easy. We were hoping to have held several live events by now, but haven’t been able to thanks to the continuing restrictions. In addition, we hoped to launch a pro-free speech educational programme in sixth forms and universities this autumn, but have had to postpone that for the time being. That means our activities have been limited to case work, research and staff recruitment. To date we have about 5,850 members, an increase of over 2,500 since last June, and about 3,800 registered supporters, up from 2,345 in June.