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!

The FSU is delighted to announce a new event, ‘Blasphemy law by the back door?’ Speakers include the 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 egg hunts, Fawlty Towers, The Death of Stalin and the latest scandalous revelations about the Canadian Government’s response to anyone supporting the truckers’ ‘Freedom convoy’. 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.

Edmund Burke Foundation Conference – book your tickets here!

The Edmund Burke Foundation invites FSU members to come 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 very 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 our 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 to all three days are heavily subsidised and are selling fast (£25 for students; £50 for those aged 18-30; £115 for a standard ticket). Sign up to register here.

FSU response to Institute of Actuaries’ consultation on diversity, equity and inclusion

The FSU has responded to the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries’ (IFoA) consultation on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).  Like many other professional and supervisory bodies, the IFoA is proposing to update its Code of Conduct to get its members to comply with DEI orthodoxy. We are concerned this will result in further suppression of members’ free speech, especially as the IFoA’s code of conduct has very broad application and applies to members’ private lives, i.e., their behaviour outside of work.

In our response, we highlight how the existing IFoA Code already contains extensive DEI provisions. If these new proposals were to be implemented, we fear the IFoA would be adopting an approach to DEI that risks scope creep from unclear or contentious definitions, and threatens to punish anyone who dissents from woke orthodoxy. Our experience at the FSU is that these kinds of DEI requirements lead to members being put through unnecessary and stressful disciplinary procedures.

You can read our response in full by clicking here.

Education not indoctrination – sign the Don’t Divide Us petition

Don’t Divide Us think schools should educate not indoctrinate, which means introducing children to politically contentious ideas and opinions in a fair and balanced way and not regurgitating materials provided by activist lobby groups for whom ‘social justice’ is more important than education. Please read, sign and share their petition if you agree. The link is available here.

The Weekly Sceptic’s first ever live podcast recording – book your tickets here!

Tickets to the first ever live recording of the Weekly Sceptic – the regular podcast of the Daily Sceptic, featuring stand-up comic and GB News presenter Nick Dixon, Daily Sceptic editor Will Jones and FSU founder Toby Young – are now on sale. It’s at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster on 20th May. Doors open at 7pm (as does the bar) and the two-hour show starts at 7.30pm (including an audience Q&A). Emphasis on politically incorrect humour! Includes a section called ‘Peak Woke’ in which Toby and Nick compete to see who can find the most egregious example of woke gobbledegook in the past seven days. Guaranteed laughs. Tickets are only £25 and are available here – but hurry if you’d like to go. They’re selling fast.

Government to shelve draconian Worker Protection Bill in big free speech victory

News of a big free speech victory emerged last week (Saturday 8th April). The government has withdrawn its support from the “draconian” Worker Protection (Amendment to Equality Act 2010) Bill following a Tory backlash (Telegraph). Members will recall that our Chief Legal Counsel, Dr Bryn Harris, produced a very thorough briefing note on the Bill and it’s this note, which we’ve circulated widely in Parliament, that has undoubtedly prompted the backlash.

If the Bill had reached the statute books in its current form, it would have introduced a legal requirement for companies and public bodies to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent their employees being harassed by third parties (i.e., customers or members of the public) in a way that related to a “protected characteristic” as defined by the Equality Act 2010 (such as sex, gender reassignment, age, race, religion, etc).

The obvious danger, apart from the compliance costs, is that the legislation would have caused an explosion in costly litigation, forcing hospitality venues and other businesses to expel clients for “banter” and other trivial, perfectly lawful incidents.

However, with Tory peers having tabled numerous amendments to the Bill, a government source has now confirmed that there won’t be enough time to debate them all before the end of the Parliamentary session in the autumn – making “passage of the Bill impossible”.

The scale of the backlash took ministers by surprise.

FSU Advisory Council member Lord Frost described the Bill as a “woke measure” that would “have a chilling effect on every conversation in a workplace”.

Another Tory peer, Lord Strathcarron, said bookshops would be put off inviting authors such as JK Rowling and Helen Joyce to give talks “knowing that an employee could sue for hurt feelings”.

According to the government source quoted in the Telegraph, the Minister for Women and Equalities, Kemi Badenoch (who was responsible for the Bill), is now looking to ensure any future legislation is focused solely on preventing the sexual harassment of employees by third parties – an element of the current Bill that commands broad support.

The FSU is relieved that the government has listened to our concerns and those expressed in the House of Lords and withdrawn its support for this piece of legislation. The Equality Act 2010 undoubtedly needs reforming, but not in a way that further erodes free speech.

You can read more about this important victory on our home page.

Theatres refusing Oscar-winner Martin McDonagh’s plays over unpalatable language

In a recent interview, the playwright Martin McDonagh suggested that theatres are becoming “a dangerous place” for writers – the Oscar winning screenwriter also revealed that several theatre companies had recently rejected his plays because he wouldn’t agree to them sanitising his language to make it more palatable to ‘progressive’ audiences (BBC, Evening Standard, Mail, Telegraph).

McDonagh’s 2022 film The Banshees of Inisherin was nominated for nine Oscars, his 2008 short film Six Shooter won an Oscar, and his 2003 play Pillowman will be revived in June at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London.

However, McDonagh revealed that despite being an established writer, several theatre companies had recently expressed a desire “to make some words [in his plays] more palatable to them or what they think their audience is”. When he refused, initial discussions about reviving the play fell through.

He went on to describe this new censorious culture in the world of West End theatre as a “major problem”, and went on to suggest that state-sponsored censorship of writers was also getting worse. “It seems like governments are becoming increasingly more scared of dissenting voices,” he said, adding that it is “a very frightening time”.

His comments regarding theatre companies attempting to interfere at an editorial level with his creative output come in the wake of Roald Dahl’s publisher recently announcing that hundreds of tweaks, edits, revisions and rewrites had been made to his back catalogue to bring the prose into line with ‘progressive’ sensibilities.

The decision was only reversed after high-profile authors including Salman Rushdie denounced the move as a form of censorship and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson said works of fiction should be “preserved and not airbrushed”.

New faculty-led organisation at Harvard will defend academic freedom

“Conservatives are so few at American universities that the battle to restore respect for free and open debate will have to be led by what used to be known as traditional liberals. Well, maybe there’s hope,” says The Wall Street Journal, in a strong leader on the news that 50 senior academics at Harvard University have formed a new faculty-led Council on Academic Freedom dedicated to the free exchange of ideas.

Announcing the move in an op-ed in the Boston Globe, Harvard professors Steven Pinker and Bertha Madras wrote that “an academic establishment that stifles debate betrays the privileges that the nation grants it”. The professors went on to note that Harvard has seen far too many recent “cases of disinvitation, sanctioning, harassment, public shaming, and threats of firing and boycotts for the expression of disfavoured opinions”.

The group’s touchstone, they add, will be the “Free Speech Guidelines” adopted by Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 1990, which declares: “Free speech is uniquely important to the University because we are a community committed to reason and rational discourse. Free interchange of ideas is vital for our primary function of discovering and disseminating ideas through research, teaching and learning.”

The formation of the Council on Academic Freedom constitutes progress, says the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board. But as they point out, not for nothing does US free speech campaign group The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) currently place Harvard 170th out of 203 institutions in its US college free speech rankings.

The problem is not just the school’s administration, “which supports a powerful diversity, equity and inclusion bureaucracy”, but the cadre of students who energetically enforce woke orthodoxy on campus: “Students at many colleges these days operate like Red Guards in China’s Cultural Revolution. Being unwoke is socially punished. Breaking that culture of conformity will take reinforcements across the institution.”

There’s “ample reason to be sceptical, and we’ll believe it when we see it”, the editors conclude. “But if Harvard’s faculty is recommitting the school to the bedrock principles of university life, hear, hear.”

New Culture Forum annual conference – purchase tickets here!

Join the New Culture Forum in Birmingham on 22nd April for a day-long conference in which they set out their new vision for Britain. Speakers and panellists include: William Clouston, Leader of the Social Democratic Party, Baroness Claire Fox and Professor Matthew Goodwin. Tickets are available here.