Weekly news round-up

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. 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 turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons at the bottom of this email. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

FSU writes to Charity Commission about mosque at centre of Wakefield Quran row

Members may recall that last week we wrote to West Yorkshire Police asking them to remove the ‘non-crime hate incidents’ that had been recorded against the names of four boys at Kettlethorpe High School in Wakefield after one of the boys, a 14 year-old who is on the autistic spectrum, brought a copy of the Quran into school and accidentally dropped it, causing minor damage (Mail, Times). In a completely disproportionate response, the police decided to treat this episode as a ‘hate incident’ and recorded it as such. You can read that letter here.

We’ve now followed up with a letter to Helen Stephenson, the CEO of the Charity Commission, asking her to open an investigation into Jamia Masjid Swafia, the Wakefield mosque where the 14 year-old boy’s mother appeared shortly after the episode, dressed in a Muslim headscarf, seemingly in an effort to protect her son, who had been receiving death threats. While she sat on a panel, modestly bowing her head, the Imam warned that the Muslim community wouldn’t tolerate any disrespect shown to the Quran, and if necessary would defend its honour with their lives.

“When it comes to the honour of the Quran we will stand and we will defend the honour of the Quran no matter what it takes,” he said. “The slightest bit of disrespect [to the Quran] is not accepted and it is not going to be tolerated at any point, in any city, in any country by any Muslim and that’s the fact of the matter.”

The Imam continued:

Let me make categorically clear and those who prayed Friday prayers here today will have heard my Friday sermon and my lecture too, that any Muslim in Wakefield, Halifax where I am from, Bradford, Dewsbury, the United Kingdom or outside the United Kingdom will never tolerate the disrespect of the holy Quran. Never. Why? Because we will sacrifice our lives for it. We will give anything in the honour of Allah and his messengers… So there’s no element of brushing this under the carpet. There’s no element of let it pass for a few days and then it die down [sic].

The Jamia Masjid Swafia mosque is a registered charity, and we think these remarks constitute a breach of one of the mosque’s charitable objects, namely, “promoting good community relations and cohesion between Muslims and non-Muslims”. We don’t believe the Imam was promoting “religious harmony” when he warned that Muslims in Wakefield and elsewhere wouldn’t tolerate any disrespect shown towards the Quran. Rather, his remarks – indeed, the entire spectacle, which had the appearance of a show trial – seemed designed to intimidate the non-Muslim community into observing Islamic blasphemy codes concerning the Quran.

You can read our letter urging the Charity Commission to open an investigation into the mosque here.

Big free speech victory as Christian street preacher overturns conviction for misgendering trans woman

A Christian street preacher who was reported to counter terrorism police after publicly misgendering a trans woman has this week successfully appealed his conviction for a public order offence in Leeds City Centre back in 2021 (Breitbart, Christian Post, Independent, Mail). Expertly advised by the FSU’s Legal Officer, Karolien Celie, Toby Young acted as an expert witness for the defence. We’re delighted that Mr McConnell’s conviction for ‘misgendering’ has now been overturned.

Writing in The Critic, Tim Dieppe of Christian Concern, which helped Mr McConnell with his appeal, offers a lucid summary of the event’s that culminated in his arrest while preaching in Leeds City Centre: 

A transgender woman (i.e., a biological man dressed as a woman and identifying as a woman) asked a question about whether God accepts the LGBT community.

McConnell responded to the question referring to the questioner by saying: “So, this gentleman asked a question…”

Members of the crowd screamed at him: “She’s a woman!”

McConnell replied: “No, this is a man.” At which a woman in the crown shouted: “She’s just as much a woman as me!”

Interactions continued, with McConnell calmly preaching about Biblical sexual morality and continuing to refer to “this gentleman”, and sometimes referring to him as a “man in women’s clothes”.

At this point, a police officer turned up, and members of an increasingly aggressive crowd immediately started complaining that Mr McConnell had offended them (“You’ve got a baton, slap him around the f***ing arse and take him,” one person said, chattily). When the preacher attempted to explain himself, saying: “She asked me… he asked me what do I think…”, the officer cut him off and arrested him. Astonishingly, Mr McConnell was later convicted of “causing harassment, alarm or distress” at Leeds Magistrates’ Court, fined £620 and sentenced to a 12-month community order (Independent).  

In its pre-sentence report, the Probation Service suggested that because Mr McConnell “is viewed to be persistently and illegally espousing an extreme point of view”, a probation officer had been “routinely liaising with [his] colleagues in the Joint Counter Terrorism Team” (Mail).

A remarkable claim, that. What is it, exactly, that the Probation Service regard as “extreme” about Mr McConnell’s “point of view”? The idea that people cannot change their biological sex? Surely not. Back in 2021, the judgement handed down in Maya Forstater’s landmark employment appeal tribunal ruled that gender critical beliefs of this kind, including the belief that sex is immutable and not to be conflated with gender identity, was a protected philosophical belief and, as such, “worthy of respect in a democratic society” (Times). Or perhaps the Probation Service thinks it’s “extreme” to believe in biblical accounts that fail to affirm transgenderism. Then again, the President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, Mrs Justice Eady, last year ruled that believing that men and women were created by God, including believing that transgenderism is sinful, is a protected belief under both the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act.

Speaking before the appeal verdict, Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which has done such a good job of representing Mr McConnell, said: “This case represents a disturbing trend in our society which is seeing members of the public and professionals being prosecuted and reported as potential terrorists for refusing to celebrate and approve LGBTQ ideology” (Mail).

Let’s hope victory in this appeal case marks the beginning of a legal fightback.

Online Speakeasy with Simon Fanshawe – register for tickets here!

The FSU is delighted to announce that on Tuesday 18th April our General Secretary, Toby Young, will be joined in conversation at an exclusive, members-only Online Speakeasy with writer and broadcaster Simon Fanshawe OBE.

Simon has had a career that stretches from being an award-winning comic (Perrier Award 1989) to a Sunday Times feature writer, as well as a broadcaster and columnist. He is the author of the best-selling book The Power of Differencewhich brings together his own experiences and the latest research to explain why inclusion is more than just being nice to people, why unconscious bias training isn’t the fix we need and why listening to all individual voices, not assuming that different groups of people have a single homogenous viewpoint, is key. He was one of the co-founders of Stonewall, but resigned from the organisation in 2019 because he believes it was going about promoting diversity in the wrong way (Spiked).

This is an online event and FSU members will be sent a link separately so they can attend via Zoom – look out for the email, as this is going to be a great discussion! You can find out more about the event here.

Dis-/misinformation and the freedom to dissent – book your tickets here!

So-called dis- and misinformation have been singled out by many governments, institutions, charities, and commercial businesses as threats to democracy that require widespread censorship. But is this a genuine concern, or just an excuse to suppress dissenting points of view on issues like the Covid lockdowns, mRNA vaccines, the war in Ukraine and climate change? And even if the threat is real and the concern is genuine, how can we trust state agencies to accurately identify dis- and misinformation?

The FSU is bringing together a panel of experts to discuss these issues, including the Director of Big Brother Watch Silkie Carlo, writer and broadcaster Timandra Harkness, and two people identified by a 77th Brigade whistle-blower as having been flagged for disseminating ‘misinformation’ about the Government’s pandemic response – the journalist Peter Hitchens and our General Secretary, who will be chairing the discussion.

Why not join us to discuss what lessons we should learn about how to counter the mis/disinformation police and defend the freedom to dissent?

In-person tickets for the event are now sold out, but you can join the waiting list in case places become available. Alternatively, if you’re an FSU member you can use the Zoom option to attend virtually – please register using the Zoom link supplied in recent emails from FSU events, or by clicking here.

Help protect workplace freedom of speech – donate to Karen Sunderland’s fundraiser!

Karen Sunderland is suing her former employer after falling victim to ‘offence archaeology’. In 2018, when Karen was a Conservative candidate in the local elections, iNews dug up some tweets she’d posted in 2017 and managed to get her suspended by the party. The tweets reflected her sincere belief that aspects of Islamic doctrine are illiberal and unfair to women.

Four years later, when Karen was embarking on a new career, someone tipped off her employer about this episode and she was fired. Karen believes her comments were protected political speech, and that her dismissal was unfair and discriminatory. Her claim makes two important legal arguments.

First, her dismissal was either directly or indirectly because of her belief in conservatism, a belief protected by the Equality Act 2010. Establishing that conservatism is a protected belief would bring balance to the law: while there is case law protecting democratic socialism there are no equivalent protections for its right-wing counterpart. If she succeeds in winning this argument, the judgement would protect employees with conservative views which, while wholly lawful, are often distasteful to HR officers.

Second, Karen argues that she was dismissed because of her belief in freedom of speech. In short, free-thinkers attract controversy, and always have – and employers who put rigid speech codes in place are adversely affecting employees who believe in free speech. A finding that freedom of speech is a protected belief would give legal protection to other employees who manifest that belief by speaking their minds and testing received wisdom.

Karen’s trial begins on 28th March. She is being represented by barrister Francis Hoar, acting on a direct access basis. Francis is one of England’s best barristers when it comes to freedom of speech cases and party-political matters: in 2021 he published In Protection of Freedom of Speech, with a Foreword by Lord Sumption.

You can donate to Karen’s fundraiser here.

FSU member Julie Burchill has new play on in Brighton – book your tickets here!

Journalist and FSU member Julie Burchill has a new play out. Awful People was written with her ex-partner, Daniel Raven, and will be playing at the Latest Music Bar in Brighton from 22-25 May. Here’s the synopsis: “When a pair of middle-aged, middle-class ex-spouses get back together to write a rap musical, the stage is set for eye-watering embarrassment and folly. As they waylay the less privileged young people who cross their path – their Ukrainian nanny/cleaner (‘home curator’) and a young black Deliveroo man – this clash of cultures can only end in calamity.” Sounds triggering. Still, if you’re in the area and feel like risking a night of high culture psychological trauma, tickets are available here. You can read Julie’s latest article for the Spectator, ‘Woke culture is strangling comedy’, here.

Julie Bindel, Kathleen Stock and Martina Navratilova launch The Lesbian Project!

Julie Bindel, Kathleen Stock, and Martina Navratilova have this week launched The Lesbian Project – a dynamic not-for-profit organisation, dedicated to the understanding and enhancement of lesbian lives in the UK.

According to the Telegraph, “The idea that lesbians still need some kind of protective body may seem almost laughably anachronistic, not least since the 2013 Same-Sex-Couples Marriage Act.” But as Kathleen Stock explains, the project isn’t necessarily battling homophobia as much as preventing lesbians from being overlooked in favour of new, more “fashionable” sexualities: “We’ve got a report coming out that will show millions of pounds are going into LGBT but increasingly that funding is going to trans projects, while for lesbian-only projects it’s vanishingly rare,” Stock says.

The Lesbian Project’s Advisory Board includes: MP for Edinburgh South West and member of the FSU’s Scottish Advisory Council, Joanna Cherry, KC; the barrister Lucy Masoud; feminist human rights advocate and Member of the Austrian Parliament, Faika El-Nagashi; artist and campaigner Nicole Jones; and Tara Kaufmann, who works in health policy. For more information about The Lesbian Project, click here

Antisemitism activists crowdfund to fight lawsuit after Twitter row – show your support here!

Edward Cantor and James Mendelsohn have established a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to fight a lawsuit brought following a social media spat two years ago.

James Wilson, a qualified solicitor, is suing the antisemitism campaigners after a Twitter dispute over the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. The defendants shared a Facebook post referencing Mr Wilson, which he says amounts to libel, harassment, breach of data protection and invasion of privacy.

Mr Wilson also sued the late antisemitism campaigner Dr Peter Newbon, who had been part of the same Twitter conversation that he’s complaining about in the case of Mr Cantor and Mr Mendelsohn. After the Jewish academic’s sudden death last year (Mail), Mr Wilson reached a financial settlement with his widow.

Last month, Mr Cantor and Mr Mendelsohn applied to the High Court for the case to be struck out or for summary judgement in their favour to avoid the huge costs of going to a full trial. However, the Master ruled that the case should proceed to trial, aside from the harassment claim against Mr Cantor. In the crowdfunding description, Mr Cantor suggests that “if [Mr] Wilson’s claim is not defeated, he and others will be emboldened to target campaigners against antisemitism with legal action”. 

To learn more about the case and show your support, click here.

NHS staff demand organisation reinstates the word ‘woman’ on its webpages

Some 1,200 doctors, nurses and health practitioners have written to NHS bosses and all four chief nursing officers demanding the organisation reinstate the word ‘woman’ in cancer and pregnancy webpages (Epoch Times, Express, Mail, Scottish Daily Express, Telegraph).

At least 19 women’s health pages on the NHS website fail to mention women either at all or in addition to non-gendered language, including in the guidance on ovarian and uterus cancer, menopause, childbirth and heavy periods.

The Clinical Advisory Network on Sex and Gender, a group of NHS staff, organised the letter after noticing that many NHS.UK webpages had begun shifting to gender-neutral language since 2021, using terms such as “you”, “people” or “person”.

In their letter, the clinicians provide examples of the type of linguistic erasure in question.

Official NHS guidance for ovarian cancer, for instance, previously began by saying it “is one of the most common types of cancer in women”. Now, this sentence has vanished along with any mention of women.

The NHS overview page on miscarriages previously said: “For most women, a miscarriage is a one-off event, and they go on to have a successful pregnancy in future.” Following the website’s update, the page simply refers to most “people”, not most “women”.

Elsewhere, information about womb cancer used to begin with reference to “the female reproductive system” before going on to note that this type of cancer is “more common in women who have been through the menopause”. Again, the reformulated version contains no reference to females or women.

According to the clinicians’ letter, “NHS messaging” of this kind “shows a lack of concern for women”. The letter continues: “Removal of sex-based language is discriminatory and could leave the NHS open to legal challenge… We call for the reinstatement of sex-based, respectful communication that meets the healthcare needs of women. Specifically, the NHS must use women’s words for women’s bodies and women’s health problems.”

Another children’s book series sanitised without author’s permission

Last week, it emerged that over a dozen books by one of the world’s most successful children’s authors, RL Stine, have had references to mental health, weight, gender and ethnicity removed or changed to bring them into line with ‘progressive’ sensibilities (Times).

At the time, some outlets assumed that it was Mr Stine who was responsible for the revisions. “Edits have been made by author RL Stine to his original works,” Sky News claimed – not unreasonably, it has to be said, given that they are, er, his books. However, it now transpires that the changes in question were made without the author’s knowledge or permission (Mail, New York Post, Times).

Mr Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ books have sold more than 300 million copies worldwide and are the second-highest selling children’s series behind JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The American author says his publisher, Scholastic, made the changes to his recently re-released eBooks without reviewing them with him. “I’ve never changed a word in Goosebumps,” he tweeted. “Any changes were never shown to me.”

Scholastic, meanwhile, says the revisions in question relate to “imagery” that needed to be changed to “keep the language current” and avoid “negatively impacting a young person’s view of themselves”.

The children’s horror novels now include more than 100 edits. A character once described as “plump” is now “cheerful”. Descriptions of characters who resemble “bowling balls” or who have “squirrel cheeks” are deleted entirely. Someone Mr Stine wanted us to understand as “crazy” is now simply “silly”.

In one novel, a character wearing a Halloween costume, dressed as “a dark and stormy night”, no longer wears black face paint. Similarly, in Bride of the Living Dummy, released in 1998, a character dressed as a clown has the black rings painted around his eyes and mouth changed to red.

Elsewhere, a character described as having “at least six chins” is now “at least six feet six”.

In the 1997 edition of I Live in Your Basement!, a monster issued orders to the protagonist. “Did he really expect me to be his slave – for ever?”, which has been changed to “Did he really expect me to do this – for ever?”

The book Don’t Go to Sleep! depicts a boy who dismisses Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as “girl’s stuff”. Now, he insists it’s “not interesting”. (Sounds like a fun character.)

In early books in a series of Slappy novels – the ventriloquist’s dummy, who comes to life and is the villain of the series – describe him as wanting to subjugate humans as his “slaves”, but in later stories they are called “servants”.

The edits, part of a 2018 eBook re-release, are the latest example of novels being changed to make them less ‘offensive’. Last month, it emerged that Roald Dahl’s stories had been subjected to hundreds of changes, including no longer describing Augustus Gloop as fat or Mrs Twit as fearfully ugly (Telegraph).

Will this attempt to sanitise children’s literature never end? If you have any of Mr Stine’s books as originally written – in all their ‘offensive’ glory – hang on to them. They could be worth something in a few years.

Best wishes,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer.