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 (although not if you’re reading this on a desktop). If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

FSU Summer Speakeasies – tickets now available!

If you can get to Edinburgh on Wednesday 19th July, do please join us for our Summer Speakeasy on a particularly timely subject: ‘Can the Arts Survive and Thrive in Scotland?’ Taking place just weeks before the Edinburgh Festival, where comedian Jerry Sadowitz will return with his show in defiance of last year’s cancellation, and with our Scottish Advisory Council member Joanna Cherry MP due to speak after an unsuccessful attempt to no-platform her, our guest speakers – poet Jenny Lindsay, actress Kirstin McLean and author Ewan Morrison – will take us through the free speech issues faced by artists, writers and performers, and discuss how we can stand up for the right of audiences to judge for themselves. Get your tickets here.

On Thursday 20th July, we’ll be in Manchester with what looks set to be a fascinating event entitled ‘Free Speech: A Radical History’ which will focus on the city’s historic political struggles. We’ve invited two local historians – Michael Herbert of Red Flag Walks and Jonathan Schofield, tour guide and editor of Manchester Confidential – to share their knowledge and they’ll be joined by historian of US political history, Dr Cheryl Hudson. Tickets are available here.

Christian school worker wrongly sacked for her transgender beliefs

Some good news for lawful free speech in the workplace — a Christian teaching assistant dismissed for gross misconduct after sharing Facebook posts criticising plans to teach LGBT+ relationship in primary schools has won an appeal at the Employment Appeal Tribunal (BBC, Mail, Telegraph)

Kristie Higgs was sacked by Farmor’s School in Fairford, Gloucestershire, in 2019 for her social media content.

In one post, she shared an article on the rise of transgender ideology in children’s books in American schools and commented: “This is happening in our primary schools now.”

Ms Higgs said she made the comments after discovering that the Church of England school attended by her child planned to introduce books on “confusing and harmful gender identity, including one titled My Princess Boy”.

Another of her social media posts referred to “brainwashing our children” and added: “Children will be taught that all relationships are equally valid and ‘normal’, so that same-sex marriage is exactly the same as traditional marriage, and gender is a matter of choice, not biology, so that it’s up to them what sex they are. We say again this is a vicious form of totalitarianism aimed at supressing Christianity and removing it from the public arena.”

Mrs Higgs, with top-drawer support from the Christian Legal Centre, took the school to an Employment Tribunal. In its 2020 ruling, however, the Tribunal concluded that although her religion was a “protected characteristic” as defined by the 2010 Equality Act, the school had lawfully dismissed her.

The teacher appealed against that judgment to the Employment Appeal Tribunal in London, which has now ruled in her favour.

In the judgement handed down, Mrs Justice Eady said the question for a future hearing would be whether the school’s decision to sack Mrs Higgs “were because of, or related to, the manifestation of the claimant’s protected beliefs, or were due to a justified objection to the manner of that manifestation”.

That ruling, and the specific wording of that ruling, may well be a game changer for the FSU as we look to progress a number of current cases that involve similar issues.

Latest episode of the FSU’s podcast is out now!

The latest episode of the FSU’s weekly podcast, That’s Debatable!, is out now!

This week, hosts Tom and Ben are joined by Tory district councillor for Witham Town and Braintree Angela Kilmartin to talk about what happened when she was investigated for privately expressing opposition to the flying of pride flags.

Click here to listen to ‘A Touch of Civic Pride’ in full – and for free!

In this refreshingly frank discussion, Ms Kilmartin recounts the story of how she was formally investigated for expressing on her private Facebook account, her opposition to the LGBTQ flags.

At the end of the process, the district council’s monitoring officer advised Ms Kilmartin to undergo Equality Act and ‘emotional intelligence’ training.

Whatever else we might say about that monitoring officer, we can at least admire their bravery – as you’ll hear, Angela isn’t exactly the sort of person willing to be pushed around in this manner. Far from caving in and subjecting herself to Maoist emotional re-education, she continues to exercise her political voice to great effect from the public gallery at council meetings.

The FSU is hiring!

The FSU is currently hiring for two new roles.

We’re looking for an Events and Mactaggart Programme Assistant. This role is an excellent opportunity to develop skills in organising a wide range of events for diverse audiences around the UK; to acquire expertise and build contacts across the free speech landscape; and to understand how free speech is situated within the broader political context. You will engage with hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds and have plenty of opportunities to contribute ideas to the development of FSU Events and the Ian Mactaggart Programme, which is administered by the FSU and provides grants to individuals, societies and other groups that wish to provide opportunities for debate, open discussion and intellectual exploration. Applications will close on Friday 30th June with interviews to take place remotely thereafter. You can find out more here.

We’re also looking for a Paralegal. The successful candidate will play a key role in free speech disputes taking place in workplaces, universities, professional associations, voluntary organisations, and the courts. Applicants should send a CV and introductory letter to [email protected] by Friday 7th July. Full details are available here.

Gillian Philip case – show your support here!

FSU member Gillian Philip continues to fight for a woman’s right to state biological facts without fear of losing her job.

Gillian brought an Employment Tribunal claim against publishers Working Partners and HarperCollins, arguing that she was unlawfully discriminated against when her contract to write children’s books was terminated because of her gender critical beliefs.

A preliminary hearing was held to determine whether Gillian’s claim had been filed in time and whether she had rights under the Equality Act 2010 as a worker or employee of Working Partners.

The judge at the Employment Tribunal described Gillian’s situation as unique. (The judgement can be found here.) Gillian won on the trickiest aspect of her case, delay in bringing a claim. The judge found that it was just and equitable to allow her case to be pleaded after the time limit because in the immediate aftermath of her sacking by Working Partners she was depressed following the death of her husband.

However, although Gillian won on the time question, she lost on the worker status question and so she is now appealing that part of the judgement to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

In launching her appeal, Gillian will once again need your help. You can find out more about the case and pledge your support here.

COVID inquiry “limiting outside voices” on the effects of lockdown

The long-awaited UK Covid-19 inquiry is “limit[ing] outside voices” on whether lockdown was too draconian, and witnesses are being “self-selected” so that “almost nobody is questioning the cosy establishment view”, say the authors of a landmark report on the effects of lockdown (CapX, Telegraph, Times).

Scientists from John Hopkins University and Lund University published research earlier this month looking at the impact of lockdowns on the UK and around the world. Their data suggest that the measures prevented as few as 1,700 deaths in England and Wales during the first wave and had “negligible public health effects”. (In a context where there are around 11,000 deaths in England and Wales during an average week). The research was based on a meta-analysis – considered the ‘gold-standard’ for medical evidence – which screened 19,646 studies and focused on 22 that could be converted to standardised measures.

Far from being effective, lockdowns were a “global policy failure of gigantic proportions”, according to their analysis.

An important contribution to the ongoing debate on the efficacy of lockdowns, you might think.

And yet the think tank that published the research, the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), approached the Covid Inquiry some weeks ago seeking to submit it as formal evidence, and according to the IEA’s Director of Public Policy Matthew Lesh has still had no assurances that it will be included.

The academic authors themselves have now raised concerns that the inquiry is “self-selecting” who should give evidence and making it difficult to submit research that’s counter to the prevailing narrative. They fear the “fundamental question” of whether harsh lockdown measures were really necessary will not be properly examined.

“The inquiry appears designed to limit outside voices,” Mr Lesh said, and was “self-selecting who can give so-called ‘expert’ evidence and demonstrating no clear way to submit contrarian research.”

Prof Karol Sikora, a leading oncologist, and Dr Tom Jefferson from the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University, who both raised concerns about the accuracy of government pandemic models, said they too have been snubbed by the inquiry.

Meanwhile, Baroness Hallett, the Inquiry’s Chair, has written to 17 members of the left-wing, pro-Lockdown ‘Independent SAGE’ lobby group led by longstanding Communist Party of Great Britain member Prof Susan Michie, which criticised the government for re-opening the country too soon, and repeatedly called for fresh lockdowns, requesting evidence (Telegraph).

Teacher shuts down “despicable” pupil for questioning gender identity ideology

The Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, is understood to have ordered an investigation into the Church of England school in East Sussex at which a teacher was recorded telling a pupil who refused to accept her classmate was a cat that she was “despicable” (Telegraph).

Ms Keegan has ordered the Department for Education’s regional director for the South East, Dame Kate Dethridge, to visit Rye College and investigate whether pupils’ safety has been put at risk. “Teachers should not be teaching contested ideology as fact,” a source close to the Education Secretary told the Telegraph, adding: “They must have due regard to safeguarding if a pupil identifies as an animal.”

The incident, which has infuriated parents, was allegedly sparked after a 13-year-old girl and her friend were reprimanded at the end of a Year 8 class on “life education” in which they were told they can “be who you want to be and how you identify is up to you”.

In a secretly recorded audio clip of the exchange, one of the girls can be heard asking a fellow pupil: “How can you identify as a cat when you’re a girl?” Having been reprimanded by the teacher and told she had “just really upset someone”, the spirited young orator swatted away this woke appeal to emotional safetyism, deftly countering with: “If they want to identify as a cat or something then they are genuinely unwell – crazy.”

The teacher went on to suggest that the girl and her friend were homophobic and confused, which the girls denied. When the pupils then made a rhetorical ‘appeal to authority’, craftily pointing out that their mothers would be on their side, the teacher, now firmly on the backfoot, responded with a tame “well that’s very sad as well then”.

Later during the recording, the teacher, now speaking in a raised voice, says: “If you don’t like it you need to go to a different school,” adding: “I’m reporting you to [senior staff], you need to have a proper educational conversation about equality, diversity and inclusion because I’m not having that expressed in my lesson.”

The mother of one of the girls happens to be an FSU member, and we are now helping her with this case.

In an interview with the Mail, she has since spoken of her pride in her daughter’s actions, and praised her strength of character in standing up for what she believed in. “My daughter expressed a [gender critical] view many people share, yet she was shouted down and bullied by someone in authority,” she said, and went on to say: ‘So many people agree with us on this, but many are reluctant to put their heads above the parapet, so to speak, because they’ll be labelled a bigot, a TERF or a Tory.”

A parent of another Year 8 pupil at the school who has received the same lesson said: “What bothers me is the shutting down of debate in such a threatening and aggressive manner, which I don’t believe is appropriate in an educational setting.” Regardless of the subject, the parent added, “education should serve to build awareness of differing points of view to widen the understanding of a subject. It shouldn’t be a case of indoctrination”.

The Telegraph has since revealed that at other schools, teachers are allowing children to “identify as various non-human actors, with teaching assistants taking children who identify as horses out cantering and feeding strips of meat to those who consider themselves to be dinosaurs”.

There’s the whiff of something deeply troubling about the imagery thus conjured, the manner in which the standard ‘teacher pupil’ relationship is distorted. Little wonder, then, that on Tuesday, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said children should not be taught “contested opinions as fact” and said they should not be influenced by the “personal views” of teachers when discussing transgender issues. Mr Sunak himself said: “It’s important parents and carers are reassured that children aren’t being influenced by personal views of those teaching them. Any example that strays from this would be wrong and we would expect headteachers to act.”

Sharron Davies MBE book launch – book now!

Of all the issues thrown up by the rise of gender ideology, safety and fairness in women’s sport is probably the one that has grabbed most mainstream attention. And yet, too often, the debate has been shut down, with those raising questions accused of ‘transphobia’. One of the most stalwart defenders of the integrity of women’s sports is the British Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies MBE.

We are therefore delighted to be hosting the official launch of Sharron’s new book, Unfair Play: The Battle for Women’s Sport, on Wednesday 5th July. Join us online or in-person in central London to hear from Sharron about why she wrote the book and the struggles she’s faced to get her arguments heard.

We have brought together a superb panel to discuss the issues with Sharron, including Dr Emma Hilton, the award-winning development biologist who has advised various sporting bodies on transgender policy, including World Rugby, as well as Cathy Devine, an independent researcher who has published widely in the areas of sport policy, equality and human rights for girls and women.

In the chair will be the FSU’s Education and Events Director Dr Jan Macvarish.

There will be an audience Q&A and plenty of time to socialise afterwards over a complimentary glass of wine, courtesy of Swift Press. The book will also be on sale on the night and Sharron will be signing copies.

In-person tickets with a discount price for FSU members can be purchased here. Members who prefer to watch the event online can register here. And non-FSU members who want to watch online can pay £5 to register here.