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.

New FSU event on the return of blasphemy laws – book your tickets here!

The FSU is delighted to announce a new event, ‘Blasphemy law by the back door?’ Speakers include Director of Common Sense Society UK Emma Webb, researcher and author Dr Rakib Ehsan, Steven Evans of the National Secular Society, and Ben Jones, the FSU’s Deputy Case Director.

Join us in-person – or online if you’re an FSU member – on Wednesday 10th May from 7:30pm as our impressive panel address one of the most pressing threats to freedom of speech in western, liberal democracies.

Full details and a link to purchase in-person tickets can be found on our Events page. If you can’t get to London, then join us via Zoom – it’s free of charge for FSU members, and you can register for the link here.

Online Speakeasy with Simon Fanshawe – register for tickets here!

On Tuesday 18th April, 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 also the author of the best-selling book The Power of Difference, which has just been awarded Management Book of the Year 2022.

Further details about the event are available here. If you’re an FSU member, Zoom registration is free of charge – you can register for the link here.

The latest episode of the FSU’s podcast now available!

The latest episode of the FSU’s podcast, That’s Debatable!, is out now. In this week’s episode our hosts, Tom Harris and Ben Jones, discuss the grave threat posed to free speech by the Worker Protection (Amendment to Equality Act 2010) Bill, reflect on why it is that the FSU’s upcoming Speakeasy on unofficial blasphemy laws is so timely, and engage in a (remarkably successful) attempt to guess which of the most bizarre free speech stories from the last week were April Fools’ Day jokes and which were actually straight up news reports.

Tom and Ben also reflect on some eye-opening data from the FSU’s archives.

As our data expert, Tom has been taking a longitudinal look at the type of free speech issues we get involved with on behalf of our members. As he explains in this clip, since the FSU’s formation just over three years ago, the proportion of our cases in which people have suffered some form of sanction for exercising their lawful right to dissent from the basic tenets of gender ideology theory has more than doubled – that includes everything from workplace HR investigations, suspensions and contract terminations through to police investigations (including the recording of ‘non-crime hate incidents’), social media bans, and campus ‘no-platforming’.

You can listen to the podcast here – and don’t forget to search for That’s Debatable! on your favourite podcasting app and hit ‘subscribe’ so you don’t miss next week’s episode.

Equality Act 2010 to be amended to equate ‘sex’ with ‘biological sex’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is reportedly set to rewrite equality law, making it clear that the word ‘sex’ in the Equality Act 2010 means “biological sex” and not gender (Independent, Sky News, Sun, Telegraph, Times).

The Equality Act has for some time now been causing problems in areas of everyday life including (but certainly not limited to) feminist student societies, women’s sport and single-sex spaces like domestic violence refuges and rape crisis centres. Why? Because it gives protection to both women and people undergoing ‘gender reassignment’ in ways which are seen by some campaigners as coming into conflict. For example, the legislation uses the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ interchangeably, even though campaigners now argue they have different meanings.

Earlier this year, Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch asked the EHRC for advice on whether the Act needed to be changed to make the law clearer. In a letter, she raised concerns about the “increasing contestation of how the term sex is understood in law and practice” as well as “the consideration about whether the definition of ‘sex’ is sufficiently clear and strikes the appropriate balance of interests between different protected characteristics”.

On Tuesday, Baroness Kishwer Falkner, the watchdog’s chairwoman, replied to the minister, outlining its conclusions. “On balance,” the letter said, “we believe that redefining ‘sex’ in the Equality Act to mean biological sex would create rationalisations, simplifications, clarity and/or reductions in risk [in certain areas]. It therefore merits further consideration.”

Baroness Falkner continued: “There is no straightforward balance, but we have come to the view that if ‘sex’ is defined as biological sex for the purposes of the Equality Act, this would bring greater legal clarity in eight areas. These include pregnancy and maternity, freedom of association for lesbians and gay men, freedom of association for women and men, positive action, occupational requirements, single-sex and separate-sex services, sport and data collection.”

However, writing in The Times, Baroness Falkner cautioned that although this change would bring clarity in a number of areas, it could also introduce “potential ambiguity” in others. The government will need to do “further work” and “consider the potential implications” of a biological definition of sex for trans people before making changes to the law, she concluded.

A source close to Mr Sunak said that the Prime Minister remains “committed to his [leadership] election pledge” to ensure the facts of biology are written into the Act. “This is a sensitive and complicated issue,” the source added, “but the Secretary of State [for Women and Equalities] is taking that work forward and he supports her in doing so.” (Telegraph).

FSU research on proposed NI Hate Crime Bill in the media spotlight

Back in 2019, the Northern Irish Justice Department commissioned Judge Desmond Marrinan to carry out a review of hate crime legislation. Following publication of the Marrinan Review in December 2020, the Department immediately accepted 22 of his 34 recommendations, including those that would: apply a statutory aggravation model to all criminal offences, whereby any offence motivated by hostility towards protected groups is punished more severely; include ‘transgender identity’ as a protected characteristic; frame legislation to allow more groups to be added to the ‘protected’ list in future; extend the ‘stirring up hatred’ offence so it applies to all the groups on the ‘protected’ list; implement the proposals in the UK Government’s 2019 Online Harms White Paper (which became the Online Safety Bill) to prohibit online content that is “legal but harmful” (Belfast News Letter).

As we point out in our briefing paper (here), the Marrinan proposals appear to have been heavily influenced by Scotland’s Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act – a piece of legislation that FSU Scottish Advisory Council member Jamie Gillies refers to as an “authoritarian mess” (Spiked).

Phase one of a public consultation designed to inform the development of a new Hate Crime Bill closed last year.

The FSU submitted a response to that consultation, and one of the things that became apparent as this public engagement unfolded was the existence of a marked ‘demographic divergence’ in Northern Ireland. Whereas activists and campaigners tended to support the idea of legislating against ‘hate speech’ to make society more ‘inclusive’ and ‘respectful’, individual members of the public tended to express concern about the impact of such legislation on freedom of speech and expression.

This week, the Northern Ireland Department of Justice published its response to the consultation exercise. It makes for grim reading. Too often, the Department deals with the ‘divergence’ by ignoring the overwhelming opposition to its proposals from the public, and then simply announcing its intention to adopt recommendations endorsed by Left-wing NGOs and lobby groups.

Which all rather begs the question: What was the point of the consultation?

It was bad enough that the Marrinan Review was commissioned, and the majority of its proposals accepted, by officials within Northern Ireland’s Justice Department when Northern Ireland didn’t have a government, between 2017 and 2020. But for unelected bureaucrats in that same Department to be ignoring responses to a public consultation at the moment is all the more egregious given that processes of this kind constitute one of the only meaningful forms of democratic accountability currently available in Northern Ireland – since First Minister Paul Given resigned in February 2022, the country has once again been without a government. 

Worryingly, phase two of the consultation looks set to consider even more draconian and illiberal recommendations.

One proposal under consideration in phase two is to make “transmisogyny” a hate crime, such that if someone were to say that they didn’t think transwomen should compete against women in women’s sport, they might then be liable for prosecution on account of having committed a transmisogynistic hate crime (Belfast Live). (You can listen to FSU General Secretary Toby Young discussing these proposals with BBC Radio Ulster’s Steve Nolan here).

The concern now is that the final phase of the consultation will follow a similar pattern to phase one, with the public expressing concerns about the proposals, activist groups cheerily endorsing them as useful tools for the persecution of their opponents, and the Department then siding with the activists.

Edmund Burke Foundation Conference – book your tickets here!

The Edmund Burke Foundation has extended an invitation to FSU members to a conference on National Conservatism at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster on 15th-17th May.

The conference brings together public figures, politicians, journalists, scholars, and students – including our own general secretary – who understand that conservatism is tied to national loyalty and national belonging, to the principle of national independence, to Britain’s historic role in conserving ancient liberties, and to the revival of the unique national traditions that transcend political differences and bind the majority together in pursuit of a flourishing society for all.

Tickets for admission on all three days are heavily subsidised and are selling fast (£25 for students; £50 for young professionals aged 18-30; £115 for a standard ticket). Sign up to register here.

‘Cancelled’ choreographer Rosie Kay to tour her new production!

As the journalist Ella Whelan points out, the idea of hearing women’s voices is now seriously de rigueur in almost every area of polite, middle-class society – except, that is, whenever those voices speak up about what they regard as the irresolvable tension between hard-edged gender identity ideology and women’s sex-based rights. Over the last few weeks, scenes of women being heckled, threatened and assaulted simply for talking about the biological reality of sex have become almost commonplace (CapX, Mail, Spiked, Times). To say that bodies matter, that there is such a thing as men and women, can also get you ousted from your own company – that, at least, is what happened to Rosie Kay, an accomplished dance professional and choreographer.

Back in 2021, Rosie invited some young dancers to her home. After a tense conversation during dinner, in which she challenged some of those present to define what they meant by ‘non-binary’ and defended the existence of women only spaces, her career was suddenly in turmoil. She was eventually forced to resign from the dance company she’d set up after some of the dancers complained to the board of trustees and accused her of ‘transphobia’ (Unherd, Times).

Speaking to the Telegraph, Kay says that her cancellation at the hands of these ex-employees “very severely curtailed my ability to earn a living, which is based on my reputation”.

Six months later, however, she set about crowdfunding support for her new company K2C0, and created a “Freedom of Expression Charter”.

It promises her workplace will be a “safe space where we are free to express our thoughts and feelings without fear of being silenced, shut down or cancelled, and those she works with will be encouraged to sign the charter. “What’s the alternative?” she says. “That I’d be terrified and keep quiet and not speak out? We need the rebels – we’re the resistance.”

Rosie has now raised enough money to tour a new production of 5 Soldiers, the 2010 piece that launched her career as a choreographer. It follows a troop of infantry squaddies from training through to deployment – and then, finally, the shattering aftermath of an IED attack.

Were the cast reticent about signing her charter? “No, in fact some said they welcomed it. All the charter states is that you’re not going to get cancelled for expressing an opinion. Lots of people live in fear. And in a culture of fear, you can’t play and make art.”

For Kay, staging the work goes beyond any personal vindication. “I’m trying to articulate the belief that freedom of expression is worth fighting for,” she says.

5 Soldiers tours Norwich, Blackpool and Bath from Thurs 20th April. The link to purchase tickets is here.

Karen Sunderland’s Case

Karen Sunderland’s hearing in the Employment Tribunal, in which she’s hoping to establish that her philosophical beliefs in freedom of speech and conservatism are ‘protected’ under the Equality Act, was last week. According to Dr Bryn Harris, the FSU’s Chief Legal Counsel, it went pretty well.

“A four-day trial took place in Croydon, and thanks to the generosity of FSU members Karen was brilliantly represented by barrister Francis Hoar of Field Court. Karen gave clear and compelling evidence of the unfair and discriminatory nature of her dismissal. In his superb cross-examination of the other side’s witness, Francis extracted a key admission as to why Karen was dismissed.

“The Tribunal will reconvene on 24th May to make its judgment, which we hope will be handed down by the end of June. I’ll keep you updated.

“I’d like to thank FSU members for their generous support for this important case.”