Weekly News Round-Up

Welcome to the Free Speech Union’s weekly newsletter. This newsletter is a brief round-up of the free speech news of the week.

Edinburgh University is becoming “an embarrassment to Scotland”

Transgender people “do not need to be treated with such reverence that we cannot be questioned or challenged”, writes Debbie Hayton in UnHerd, following the publication by Edinburgh University of a list of banned words – microinsults – that are deemed offensive. The University is “becoming an embarrassment to Scotland”, writes Stuart Waiton in the Herald. Dr Neil Thin, also of Edinburgh University, has been suspended from teaching duties and is under investigation after a student mob targeted him for challenging woke orthodoxy. The students in question have been described as “entitled, but not very bright, lecture-hall fillers”. We are supporting him in full.

“If this government is serious about restoring free speech in our country, it should start by doing away with legislation that is actively curtailing freedom of expression”, writes Emily Carver in ConservativeHome.

Blasphemy and religious hatred

The Government has been urged to step in to the investigation at Batley Grammar School amid concerns that local imams may be able to influence the process, all but guaranteeing a guilty verdict for the teacher that showed his class one of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed. Readers will know that we wrote to the headteacher of the school criticising his decision to suspend the teacher, who is still in hiding with his wife and young children, and to the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, urging the Government to introduce a duty on schools to promote freedom of speech.

Ivan Hare QC warned of the dangers of the new hate crime laws that have been proposed in Northern Ireland, England and Wales in this fascinating lecture, explaining that the law against ‘stirring up’ hatred – which would be significantly expanded under the proposed changes, just as it has been in Scotland – has become a de facto law against blasphemy. His lecture can also be read here.

Ever-expanding hate crime

The public are being pushed-aside by special interest groups, the Telegraph warns, as reform of hate crime heads in one direction: towards eroding free speech. We’re campaigning against some of the anti-free speech proposals of the Law Commission of England and Wales, but we’re anticipating more chilling recommendations from them after they’ve concluded their consultation about these reforms. Charles Wide, a former judge at the Old Bailey, has warned that left-wing lobby groups have too much influence over the Law Commission.

Among the most sinister aspect of hate crime policing in the UK is the recording of non-crime hate incidents against innocent people. Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd joined calls for police to scrap this practice. We are backing ex-policeman Harry Miller, who is trying to persuade the Court of Appeal to declare this practice unlawful. You can contribute to our fundraiser, which we’ll be using to help him pay his court costs if he’s unsuccessful, here.

Former Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, now the Chief Executive of Index on Censorship, took up the case of Maya Forstater in the Times, rejecting the notion that gender critical views are in any way comparable to racism. Maya Forstater is the ex-employee of a think tank who was fired after saying on Twitter that she didn’t think transwomen were women. She took her employer to an Employment Tribunal, but the panel ruled against her, with the judge saying that her views weren’t deserving of respect in a democratic society. Maya has appealed that verdict and is awaiting the outcome of her appeal. You can read about her ongoing case here and contribute to her fundraiser here.

The Times gave a pre-election overview of recent free speech battles fought in Scotland, including the unsuccessful battle against the new Hate Crime and Public Order Act. The paper also reports on Nicola Sturgeon’s failure to understand the tension between women’s rights and trans rights, and the attempt by trans activists to silence gender critical feminists. We cannot win the gender wars by relying on evidence and reason, writes Mary Harrington in UnHerd, as the intellectual foundations of the Enlightenment have been demolished.

The Welsh Government wants to stamp out micro-aggressions with a set of ‘anti-racist’ proposals that risk making normal workplace interactions a minefield, warns Professor Andrew Tettenborn of our Legal Advisory Council in Conservative Home. He also wrote to First Minister Mark Drakeford about these proposals on our behalf last week. You can read that letter here.

Christian Today reports on Pastor John Sherwood, arrested in Uxbridge for a sermon deemed to be homophobic. We are writing to the Metropolitan Police to protest about his arrest. Happily, Sherwood is now preaching again.

Trump ban to continue – for now

Facebook’s Oversight Board has ordered the company to justify its ban on Donald Trump within the next six months, finding that the decision to suspend him was “indeterminate and standardless” and that the platform’s rules must be apply to all users in a consistent way. The former president has launched a new platform of his own. Florida is ready to enact legislation that would impose severe fines on social media companies that permanently remove the accounts of political candidates.

Speech online

A judicial review has begun to make the Government enforce age verification checks on pornographic websites, a measure introduced in the Digital Economy Act but never acted on.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is considering using private firms to monitor extremist chatter online, reports CNN – censorship by algorithm.

India’s continued suppression of online criticism of its government has attracted fresh criticism.

Harry Potter quiz cancelled                                           

A Harry Potter quiz was cancelled by a book festival in New Zealand because of J.K. Rowling’s views on trans issues. Our General Secretary Toby Young told the Mail on Sunday: “J.K. Rowling is one of Britain’s most influential and respectable contemporary writers. This is why the decision by the Wairarapa book festival to cancel a children’s Harry Potter quiz because of comments J.K. Rowling made during an important debate on women’s only spaces is chilling. If the creator of our most successful export since James Bond can be declared persona non grata, anyone can.” Our affiliate in New Zealand launched this week – the first of many, we hope.

Hong Kong clampdown

Former Green Party leader Baroness Bennett has written a piece in the Independent about the clampdown on free speech in Hong Kong, reporting that journalists are living in fear and feel compelled to self-censor.

Political speech should never be compelled

Freedom to speak your mind is essential in a democracy, but free speech also means “the right not to be legally forced to engage in political speech”, argues Spencer Case in Arc Digital. In universities, corporations and organisations of all types, people now feel compelled to sign petitions they don’t agree with, and, in some cases, sign loyalty oaths that are far more draconian than the ones people were forced to sign during the McCarthy era.

The roots of cancel culture

Historian Tom Holland argues that Christian ideals remain at the heart of modern culture war battles, while journalist Malcolm Gladwell says a failure to understand and offer forgiveness is at the heart of modern cancel culture: “Cancel culture is what happens when you have a generation of people who are not raised with a Christian ethic of forgiveness.” Christopher Schelin compares the phenomenon to “old-fashioned church discipline”. It’s certainly not new, writes Raymond Keene in the Article, comparing modern woke witch-hunts to purges carried out by the Romans and ancient Chinese.

Wherever it comes from, cancel culture sucks, says Suzanne Harrington in the Irish Examiner. Musician Glenn Danzig warns that it will stop another “punk explosion”. He told NME, “There won’t be any new bands coming out like that. Now, they will immediately get cancelled.”

Petition: Protect employees’ free speech

A petition calling on the Government to amend the law to protect the rights of employees to speak freely outside of the workplace has been launched. We flagged it up a few weeks ago, but we thought we’d give it another plug. You can sign it here. This is something the FSU will be campaigning about in due course.

Free Speech Champions Drop-in event with ex-New York Times journalist Bari Weiss

FSU members are welcome to register for the next Free Speech Champions online ‘Drop-In’ event, “Can Truth Survive the New Journalism?” A panel of four eminent speakers will consider the current state of journalism and its implications for democracy and the pursuit of truth: Bari Weiss, Helen Lewis, Mick Hume and Katie Herzog. The evening will be chaired by Inaya Folarin Iman, one of the founding directors of the FSU. You can register for a free ticket via Eventbrite here.

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Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones

Case Officer