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.

Batley teacher allowed to return

The Batley teacher will be able to return to the classroom – a welcome result that should never have been in doubt – but the Batley Multi-Academy Trust appears to have capitulated to the mob demanding Islamic blasphemy codes be enforced in schools. The Trust has said it is “committed to ensuring that offence is not caused”. Few have dared to voice their support for the teacher, but the local branch of a trade union for rubbish collectors tabled an excellent motion in his support. As Brendan O’Neill puts it in the Spectator, “If you need someone to support your right to freedom of speech, forget the teaching unions.” It’s the binmen who’ve shown true solidarity.

Following a controversy at Allerton Grange School in Leeds about pupils displaying the Palestinian flag, Madeline Grant writes in the Telegraph about the growing number of culture war episodes playing-out in schools, including Batley.

We have written to the Education Secretary asking him to investigate the shoddy treatment of Dr Bernard Randall, the former chaplain of Trent College in Nottingham, who lost his job after delivering a sermon in which he told the pupils they were free to make up their own minds about LGBT issues and didn’t have to accept the prevailing orthodoxy. You can read that letter here.

If you are a sixth form or secondary school teacher and would like to book a speaker to talk about the importance of freedom of speech and expression, please contact the Free Speech Champions.

Higher education

Much of our recent case work has come from Scottish universities, and there are now calls for Scotland to introduce free speech legislation of its own to mirror England’s Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill. Writing in Spiked, Jamie Gillies argues that “Scottish ministers would be wise to adopt the priorities of their counterparts down south” with respect to free speech. Magnus Linklater says in the Times that the state must step in if universities can’t be trusted to stop the muzzling of dissenting views. Free Speech Champion Rob Lownie calls on students to defend the right to free speech in Areo, citing the case of Dr Neil Thin, the Edinburgh academic we are supporting.

The Institute of Economic Affairs published research this week arguing that lack of competition between universities is a key driver behind the campus free speech crisis, the solution being to make it easier to set up private universities. Noah Carl wrote in Quillette about the petulant and absurd campaign against our Advisory Council member Professor Eric Kaufmann, which, luckily, seems to have fizzled out. A welcome statement from the Provost of UCL set out his position on the importance of universities remaining neutral arenas for public debate, facilitating free speech rather than taking a stance as an organisation; in stark contrast to the position taken by actors’ union Equity on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Meanwhile, the universities of San Diego and Rhode Island have dropped investigations into academics following an intervention by the Academic Freedom Alliance.

Police Scotland targeting gender critical feminists for stickers and tweets

We have offered our support to Marion Millar, a feminist campaigner north of the border who has been left unable to sleep by the stress of a police investigation over comments made on social media about transgender rights. Police Scotland have also put out a much-ridiculed call for the public to come forward if they see “controversial stickers” being put up by gender critical feminists. Erasing the rights of women is not an acceptable price to pay for trans rights, says Suzanne Moore in the Telegraph.

Following the extraordinary report commissioned by the University of Essex that found Stonewall gave it “misleading” advice, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has withdrawn from the Stonewall diversity scheme.

The waning power of cancel culture?

Alexander Larman asks in the Critic whether cancel culture is starting to lose its power, a theme explored by Louis Wise in the Sunday Times. But Jonathan Goldsmith warns that while the Higher Education Bill promises more robust protections for free speech in universities, countless other workplaces and professions will lack the same protections.

Kenan Malik argues in the Guardian that cancel culture comes from both the left and the right, but the preponderance of our case work involves a certain type of authoritarian progressive – the woke – censoring dissenters. Although there are instances of the right cancelling people, as Tom Slater points out in Spiked. He argues for the importance of defending the principle of free speech consistently, regardless of whose voice is being silenced.

Who fights in the culture war?

A new study claims to demonstrate limited public awareness of terms like “cancel culture”, “woke”, and “trigger warnings”, but fringe ideas can spread into workplaces, schools and universities with incredible speed, as we have seen in the last 12 months. Meanwhile, the National Trust is embroiled in an anti-woke rebellion after members forced the resignation of the Chairman, with calls now for the departure of the Director-General. This follows the National Trust’s publication of a report last year about the links between its historical properties and the slave trade.

Harpsichords face imminent “decolonisation” after the Royal Academy of Music pledged to review its collection of rare instruments in the wake of George Floyd’s death. It is unclear what connects historical instruments to events in Minnesota, a point made by our Director Douglas Murray in the Spectator.

Businesses have been advised not to invest in unconscious bias training, the Telegraph reports, which leaves white men feeling that they’re “being told off for who they are”.

“The best way to defend freedom of speech may be to abandon the defensive position and instead turn the tables on utopians, by offering them a platform to explain their own beliefs so that they will be forced to face the inherent failings of utopianism itself: a generous and ironic strategy.” That’s the suggestion of Ewan Morrison, in his long read on the perils of utopian thinking in Areo.

Ofcom, social media and censorship

Dominic Cummings made a series of bombshell revelations about the government’s cack-handed response to the coronavirus crisis in the House of Commons on Wednesday. But why hadn’t we heard about these scandals before? One reason, says our founder Toby Young in the Mail, is because of Ofcom’s coronavirus guidance, warning broadcasters to exercise extreme caution when broadcasting material that could undermine public confidence in the Covid advice being pumped out by authorities. As long-standing members and supporters will recall, we tried to persuade the High Court to declare the guidance unlawful in December but were unsuccessful.

The battle for the control of Ofcom is more important than ever, given how powerful the regulator will be if the ill-conceived and chilling Online Safety Bill becomes law. The legislation would hand huge powers to Ofcom to police social media. As per our briefing on the Bill, the sections empowering Ofcom to punish social media companies for refusing to censor “misinformation” should be scrapped – and the reason that is so wrong-headed is illustrated by the fate of the lab leak theory about the origins of SARS-CoV-2. 12 months ago, it was dismissed as “misinformation” and anyone posting about it on Facebook risked being banned. This week, Joe Biden called for it to be properly investigated and, like clockwork, Facebook lifted its ban. You can read another piece by Toby in the Mail about that.

Nick Buckley, whose case we successfully fought last year, wrote about the “cruel mistress of shallow pleasure” that is social media, suggesting that it will be another decade before we know whether it has done more harm than good.

A leak of Facebook documents has shown how it goes about censoring anti-vaxxers, with the social network using an algorithm to calculate a “vaccine hesitancy score” and demoting comments, according to a report in the Daily Mail.

The future of game shows…

Educational Liberty Alliance

US readers (and others) may be interested in this free event:

The Impact of “Safe Speech” Codes in K-12 Schools

Wednesday 2nd June, 4-5 pm (Central).

To register, please click here.

Sharing the Newsletter

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Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones

Case Officer