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.

Trainee teacher faces career-threatening referral for supporting the right to show Mohammed cartoons in class

The fallout from Batley Grammar School continues to spread: a trainee teacher at Manchester Metropolitan University faced a serious hearing, threatening his future career, after he asked his course leaders to support the right of teachers to show cartoons of Mohammed. The decision has prompted widespread outrage. He is a member of the FSU and we have been supporting him. The result of the hearing is expected soon.

The teacher at the heart of the Batley affair is still in hiding six weeks on, with the location of the safe house kept secret even from his relatives.

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill strikes a blow for free speech on campuses

The new Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill is critical to the fightback against cancel culture and campus censors. We’ve been campaigning for stronger free speech protections in universities, so this Bill is very welcome. The Free Speech Union has dealt with more than 100 university free speech cases in a year. Our press release about the Bill is here.

The legislation is absolutely necessary to win the battle for free speech on campuses, but there also needs to be a wholesale culture change. Dr Michael Spence, Provost of University College London, says core intellectual skills have atrophied and universities need to teach students how to discuss controversial topics without abusing each other. Academics and students also need additional legal protection from “capricious dismissal for politically unorthodox speech”, writes Adam King in UnHerd.

Amid the hounding of Edinburgh academic Dr Neil Thin – who is an FSU member and whom we’re supporting – calls have come for the resignation of the University’s Principal for allowing an “intolerant and illiberal” culture to develop, according to the Mail. Meanwhile Dr Thin’s student accusers are reportedly under investigation by the University themselves for the torrent of abuse they have directed at him.

It’s not surprising that after years of being treated in this way dissenting academics felt the need to set up the Journal of Controversial Ideas, says its co-editor Peter Singer.

Online Safety Bill

Unfortunately, the Government has taken a rather uneven approach to free speech, writes Lizzie Troughton in the Critic. The Queen’s Speech included the new university free speech legislation, but also the Online Safety Bill – legislation that threatens to stifle online debate. We’ve joined with other campaigners to warn of the danger this Bill poses, both to freedom of the press and to ordinary social media users. The Culture Secretary says the legislation will not be a “woke charter” but we’ve been warning of the threat these proposals pose to free speech for some time. You can see the recent report we published on the Government’s plans for internet regulation here and our response to the Bill here. Guido Fawkes has set out the eye-watering cost of this ill-conceived piece of legislation.

Law student facing expulsion for defining the word “woman” – FSU case raised in Parliament

One of our members is being put through a disciplinary procedure for defining a woman as “someone born with reproductive organs and who can menstruate”. To many readers, this may sound like a biological fact, but with the enforcement of trans orthodoxy across UK universities, backed up by disciplinary codes, it’s no longer safe to say it. The member in question is a final year law student at a Scottish university with two young children, and the case was raised by Joanna Cherry QC MP during the debate on the Queen’s Speech this week, in which she spoke up in support of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill. We’re backing our member in full and hoping the university will drop the investigation.

Dozens of women have faced disciplinary action at work for expressing gender critical views, sometimes just for asking questions during equality training. The chilling of private opinions by employers has been taken up by Andrew Tettenborn, a member of our Legal Advisory Council, in the Critic. If you’ve faced a similar sanction, contact us at [email protected].

Chaplain deemed to be extremist for telling school students they were free to question LGTB policies

Dr Bernard Randall was referred to the Prevent programme by his school after he gave a sermon in which he defended students’ right to form and express their own philosophical views, including about LGBT issues. He ended up losing his job and has now begun a legal battle in the Employment Tribunal. He is a member of the FSU and we are supporting him. Meanwhile a preacher in Finland is facing prosecution for her view that homosexuality is sinful.

How woke conquered the world

Joanna Williams, who sits on our Advisory Council, explores the “intolerance and authoritarianism” of woke activists in a paper for her think tank Cieo. “Those interested in seeing genuine social change need to push back against the elitist, censorious, anti-democratic and authoritarian instincts enshrined within the woke outlook”, she writes.

The Common Sense Group of Conservative MPs has said the UK would become ungovernable if “rigid identity groups which refuse to accept the validity of differing points of view” triumph. To win this battle they have launched an “anti-woke manifesto”. In the publishing world the woke have already succeeded, leaving the industry in crisis, writes our Director Douglas Murray in UnHerd.

Also in UnHerd, Mary Harrington analyses the economic precarity that underlies the woke movement. Myke Bartlett says the culture war and cancel culture are rooted in American puritanism.

The ludicrous heights of cancel culture

An especially absurd case of cancel culture came our way this week – an art historian was suspended by the Arts Society for an off-the-cuff comment about Meghan Markle. “You couldn’t turn the television on without some person of a colourful disposition having a moan about something,” she said – the word “colourful” landing her with a suspension from the approved list of speakers and compulsory “diversity training”.

Professor Rima Azar is the latest Canadian victim of cancel culture. She has been suspended without pay because she challenged a student who said Canada was afflicted by “systemic racism”. Professor Azar is raising funds to mount a legal defence. You can donate here.

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 on Wednesday 19th May, “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.

Supporters may also be interested in this public meeting on Friday 14th May on the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.

New Zealand FSU up and running

Our sister organisation in New Zealand has launched and has already taken up the fight for free speech. You can follow their efforts here.

Help defend London’s Polish-language newspaper

A Polish-language newspaper is facing ruin following a libel case and a string of judicial errors. Help defend free speech and journalistic freedom by contributing to their crowd-funder.

Sharing the Newsletter

We’ve received several requests to make it possible to share these newsletters on social media, so we’ve added the option to post them on a few different platforms, including Twitter and Facebook. Just click on the buttons below.

If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones

Case Officer