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.

Gender conversion therapy ban – use our campaigning tool to send a follow-up letter to your MP

The FSU’s relief that the King’s Speech didn’t include a bill banning conversion therapy proved short-lived.

It was of course thanks in no small part to the thousands of members and supporters who used our campaigning tool to urge their MP to ask the Prime Minister to think again about introducing such a bill that the government’s agenda for the new Parliament omitted any reference to this long-mooted proposal.

But now the new session is underway, legislative dangers are lurking around every corner. Indeed, as Cabinet Office minister Alex Burghart blithely told the BBC this week: “Just because something isn’t in the King’s Speech doesn’t mean that it’s been ruled out.” (Christian Today).

Many of his colleagues seem to agree. Only this week, a group of Labour MPs – backed by senior Conservatives Caroline Noakes and William Wragg – put down an amendment to the King’s Speech, calling on the Government “to bring forward legislative proposals for a no-loopholes ban on so-called conversion therapy”. Thankfully, the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, chose not to select their amendment, but the fact that it was proposed in the first place serves to demonstrate that the bill’s advocates have no intention of going gently into the ‘transphobic’ night.

In the other place, Baroness Burt of Solihull topped the private members’ bill ballot with a bill proposing to ban conversion therapy. A fairly unfortunate quirk of fate, not least because it means the peer’s bill will now be allocated time for consideration in the Lords. Second reading, report and committee stages will all therefore have ample time to be completed during this Parliamentary session, with the final iteration of the bill proceeding to the Commons no later than Easter next year – if it’s not stopped in the Lords.

As if that wasn’t already enough to harrow up the soul of any self-respecting free speech warrior, a variegated assortment of pro-LGBT Conservative backbenchers are now plotting to resurrect a conversion therapy ban via an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, which is currently at second reading stage in the Commons (Mail).

The risk is that in an attempt to see off this threat from his own backbenchers, the Prime Minister may end up offering to publish a draft bill so it can go through pre-legislative scrutiny and be ‘oven ready’ after the General Election.

We think that would be extremely dangerous, making a conversion therapy ban inevitable, whoever wins the election.

As an organisation, we’ve been lobbying hard against such a bill, urging MPs to consider the unintended consequences for freedom of speech if ‘conversion therapy’ is criminalised.

Remember, conversion therapy, as commonly understood, is already illegal in this country – what the bill’s advocates would like to see criminalised goes far beyond this, and risks curtailing the free speech rights of religious readers, doctors, therapists, teachers and parents.

For chapter and verse, see our home page.

Because this danger has not gone away, we’re asking you to send a new, follow-up letter to your MP, reiterating your concerns. It only takes a couple of minutes to send.

The link to the campaigning tool is here.

Battle of Ideas, Buxton – discount tickets available here

Fed up with being a spectator at the political pantomime of Parliament? Come and join in the debate at the Battle of Ideas Buxton Festival on Saturday 25th November in Buxton, Derbyshire. Sessions include: Are the culture wars a distraction?, In the wake of terror: anti-Semitism today, From ‘debanking’ to Bud Light: the rights and wrongs of ESG, Net Zero and the great energy debate, Battle for the classroom: education or indoctrination? and The Politics of hate: is everyone a bigot but me?

FSU members can get a discount on tickets by using this link.

FSU Member’s Manchester group meet-up this weekend

This Sunday’s meet-up of the Cancelling Cancel Culture group in Manchester will discuss the Israel-Palestine conflict. It’s a very friendly, diverse group, convened by FSU member Rob Kellner. Visit their page to find out more.

Free speech victory as Finnish MP found not guilty of ‘hate speech’ for Bible Pride tweet

In a terrific victory for free speech, the Helsinki Court of Appeal has dismissed all charges against Finnish Parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen who was tried for ‘hate speech’ in August, having publicly expressed her Christian beliefs (Daily Caller, European Conservative, Gript).

Ms Räsänen is a Member of the Finnish Parliament, Chair of the Christian Democrats in the Parliament of Finland, and a former Interior Minister (2011-2015) – she’s also written about her ordeal for the Critic here.

The case against Ms Räsänen began back in June 2019 after she posted a photo of Romans 1:24–27 from the New Testament that described same-sex relationships as “shameful”. In the attached post, she criticised the Lutheran Church’s decision to become an official partner of Helsinki Pride 2019: “How can the church’s doctrinal foundation, the Bible, be compatible with the lifting up of shame and sin as a subject of pride?”

It was enough to trigger a police investigation, and 13 hours of interrogation.

The General Prosecutor of Finland subsequently brought the politician to court over three criminal charges, filed ridiculously, but tellingly, under the “war crimes and crimes against humanity” section of the Finnish Criminal Code.

The further two charges related to a short sound bite pulled from a live one-hour radio debate given in 2019, and to a pamphlet she wrote for her Church in 2004, titled Male and Female He Created Them (a pamphlet, incidentally, written many years before the law she is being prosecuted under was in force).

Writing for the Critic, Lois McClatchie points out that the prosecutor’s “disgust” for Ms Räsänen Christian faith was clear throughout. At one point, she described the MP’s use of the Biblical word “sin” as a violation of “sexual rights”. Elsewhere, the Bible was even likened to Mein Kampf.  

In March this year, the judges of the District Court of Helsinki in Finland unanimously dismissed the charges. At the time, Ms Räsänen described herself as grateful for having had the chance to stand up for freedom of speech, which is an essential right in a democratic country and appreciative of the fact that the Court recognized in its ruling the importance of free speech.

Her relief was short-lived, however, as the prosecution immediately appealed the ruling, and she was dragged back to court in August 2023.

In a unanimous ruling that upheld the District Court’s March 2022 unanimous acquittal, however, the appeal court this week dismissed the arguments of the General Prosecutor. Specifically, it found that it “has no reason, on the basis of the evidence received at the main hearing, to assess the case in any respect differently from the District Court”.

That’s a significant ruling, because the District Court’s judgement recognised that while some may object to Räsänen’s statements, “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression”.

Having concluded that there was no such justification, the District Court then struck an important blow for religious freedom, stating: “It is not for the District Court to interpret biblical concepts”.

Ms Räsänen has previously said she is “prepared to defend freedom of expression and religion at all necessary levels of justice, even, if necessary, before the European Court of Human Rights”.

Sadly, it may well now come to that. The prosecution can appeal one final time to the Supreme Court, with a deadline of 15th January to do so.

Latest episode of the FSU’s weekly podcast out now

The latest episode of our weekly podcast is out now. Talking points include: the pro-Palestine protests taking place up and down the country over the past few weeks, Colonel Bob Stewart MP’s recent conviction for a ‘hate crime’ (you can contribute to his crowdfunder here), and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s recent conversion to Christianity. The link to download the episode in full is here.

FSU Christmas Comedy Festival – get your tickets here

If you’ve never been to one of our comedy nights before, come along and find out just how good they are. Our spectacular, annual Comedy Benefit will take place just before Christmas, on Wednesday 20th December. Our MC for the evening is FSU favourite Dominic Frisby and he will be joined on stage by a fantastic line-up: Francis Foster, Daniel O’Reilly, Tania Edwards and Alistair Williams. Come and let your hair down with the FSU staff as we celebrate another successful year defending free speech. So, round up your friends and family and get your tickets here.

FSU assists journalist in securing vital free press safeguards in the UK

Following a 17-month legal battle held entirely in secret, the Met Police has been rebuked at the High Court after trying to force a journalist, known only as ‘LXP’, to give access to laptops and phones in a hunt for leaked government files (Guardian, Sun, Telegraph, Times).

As the Independent points out, the judgment “is being hailed as a significant victory for the freedom of the press and investigative reporting”.

Exactly right – and we’re delighted to say that the FSU has been supporting LXP every step of the way.

The backstory to this hugely important legal case is that the Met Police had acquired a warrant allowing them to examine journalistic records in an Official Secrets Act investigation following publication of newspaper articles that embarrassed government ministers.

On that basis, it tried to force freelance journalist LXP to give access to his devices in a hunt for leaked secret government documents that they allege constituted the source material for the newspaper articles.

Four days after the warrant was issued, in the small hours of 12th July 2022, dozens of officers from Special Branch and SO15, the Met’s anti-terrorist squad, raided LXP’s flat.

There and at LXP’s place of work, they seized electronic devices, notebooks and other documents.

Journalists’ sources are meant to be protected by the law, but the Met argued national security should trump that sacred rule. They further argued that material had, in effect, been stolen from the government.

Had the Met’s case been upheld, it would have exposed any journalist or media organisation that received unauthorised disclosures from a confidential source to the risk of a raid by the police. As LXP’s legal team pointed out in court, it would be all too easy to assert that material leaked was stolen from the government or elsewhere.

However, the High Court judgment, issued by Lady Justice Macur and Mr Justice Garnham on Friday, has ruled the Met breached domestic law and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Following the ruling, LXP’s solicitor, Katie Whately, from law firm Bindmans, said: “LXP has asked me to thank publicly the National Union of Journalists and Free Speech Union for their invaluable support in this matter.”

Ms Whately added: “If the order had been upheld, vitally important legal safeguards that protect journalistic material would have been watered down, making it easier for police to seize or obtain journalistic material, including confidential source material, no matter the public interest value of the story.”

Those safeguards are hugely important, not least because earlier this year the European Council published a draft of its European Media Freedom Act, which would allow spyware to be placed on journalists’ phones if a national government thought it necessary – a move that the European Federation of Journalists described as a “blow to media freedom” that will “put journalists even more at risk” than they are already (Guardian).

Not that the UK is part of the EU, of course – but as is well-known, the bloc’s strict legal and regulatory standards often end up being adopted worldwide in what has become known as the ‘Brussels effect’.

Thanks to LXP’s legal case, however, the High Court has just legally reaffirmed vitally important safeguards that protect journalistic material in the UK against police seizure.

Free speech and the right to protest – special online invitation

We invite you to join a timely FSU event taking place on Thursday 23rd November at 7pm.

The domestic response to the conflict in the Middle East has thrown up many difficult questions for advocates of free speech, not least how should we balance the right of protestors to express their views with the right of British Jews to go about their daily lives without feeling threatened.

At Getting the balance right: Free speech and the right to protest in the current moment, speakers include Lord Ken Macdonald (former Director of Public Prosecutions), Jonathan Hall KC (the Government’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation), Raj Chada (leading criminal lawyer, including in the “Stansted 15” trial), Natasha Hausdorff, Director of UK Lawyers for Israel, and Bryn Harris (Chief Legal Counsel, FSU).

FSU members can join on Zoom here.

GB News banned by Senedd to “protect” politicians from harmful content

A ban on GB News in the Welsh Parliament helps to “protect” people working there, according to the Presiding Officer (BBC News, Express, GB News, Wales Online).

Elin Jones – who according to the Senedd’s website holds “the single most important office in the Senedd”, and should remain “politically impartial at all times” — suspended the channel from the internal TV system last month, ostensibly because puerile comments were made live on-air by the presenter Laurence Fox about a female journalist.

Ms Jones said she wanted to prevent workers from witnessing these “offensive” comments.

Addressing a question about this alleged “censorship” from the leader of the Conservative group, Andrew RT Davies, she said that as the Senedd’s politically impartial Presiding Officer, she hadn’t for one second thought about banning the channel because she disagreed with its editorial remit or political content.

“Please understand and respect my attempt to protect women and men working in the Senedd from having to witness them [i.e., offensive and misogynistic comments] on our internal Senedd system,” Plaid Cymru’s former health spokeswoman explained.

Ms Jones then confirmed that there would be an independent review of what TV channels are available in the Welsh Parliament – although the politically impartial Presiding Officer sought to reassure Senedd members that despite the only alleged source of her outrage, Laurence Fox, having been fired from the broadcaster weeks ago following an internal investigation, GB News’s suspension would continue while that review was carried out.

The purpose of the independent review will be to develop a “broadcasting protocol” to provide “clarity and consistency” on the channels available on the Senedd’s internal TV system, the Presiding Officer explained.

It is not yet known who Ms Jones will choose to conduct the review, although one suspects that for the successful candidate ‘political impartiality’ may not be a priority.

Despite being such a stickler for the protection of other people’s feelings, Ms Jones made headlines just last month having repeatedly refused calls for the Israeli flag to be flown outside the Senedd in solidarity with the victims of Hamas’s terrorist attacks on October 7th.

Under Ms Jones’s stewardship, the Parliament was also prevented from joining the UK Parliament in being lit up in the colours of the Israeli flag as an act of solidarity against the torture, rape and murder of over a thousand Israeli men, women and children.

South West Regional Speakeasy in Exeter – tickets now available

A few places remain for our first Regional Speakeasy in the South West of England. FSU members and the wider public are invited to gather for a debate and a drink in Exeter on Wednesday 29th November.

Hear from two fascinating speakers and spend the evening meeting other free speech enthusiasts from the South West region. Our speakers will be Professor Doug Stokes of the University of Exeter and Dr Alka Sehgal Cuthbert of Don’t Divide Us. They will discuss what the campaign to ‘decolonise’ really means and consider its implications for truth-seeking, equality and freedom of expression.

Pre-booking is essential. Get your tickets here.

FSU’s new tote bags available now

Our fabulous new tote bags will be on sale at official FSU events in the run-up to Christmas.

In a choice of two designs and priced at only £10 each, they make the perfect Christmas gift for freedom-loving friends and family. We won’t be undertaking mail-order this year, so come along to our South West Speakeasy in Exeter on 29th November or our Comedy Night in London on 20th December to get yours. For members elsewhere around the country, we’ll be bringing totes with us to Belfast on 26th January and Manchester on 3rd February and to other events in our packed schedule for 2024. Details of those events coming soon. 

Kind regards,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer