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.

Free speech victories

We’ve achieved another victory this week. Dr Neil Thin was suspended from teaching and placed under investigation by the University of Edinburgh after students labelled him “problematic” because he objected to the renaming of the David Hume tower. He was abused online and subjected to a gruelling, eight-week investigation. We’ve supported him throughout and he has now been cleared and will face no further action. But as we’ve seen so many times, the process is the punishment. Following his exoneration, Dr Thin says he wants to promote “a campus climate that fosters core academic values such as considerate debate, curiosity, intellectual honesty [and] freedom of expression”.

Since our founding last year, the FSU has won some dramatic victories, writes Dan Hitchens in the Critic. “Britain’s free speech advocates have faced a frustrating puzzle. They seem to have the public on their side… The government, too, seems sympathetic… yet, on the ground – in workplaces, in universities, even in how people relate to their neighbours – there’s never been more fear of expressing an honest opinion.” But with the help of our members, we’re starting to turn the tide.

Readers will know of our intervention last week over Cambridge University’s “microaggression” reporting website. In response to this latest episode, Dr Alan Hearne has written to the Times with what sounds like a good suggestion: “Across the country many universities, led by Vice-Chancellors with more academic than management experience, are veering away from sensible policies concerning free speech and debate, often under pressure from loud minorities. Perhaps it is time for the Chancellors of these universities to help steer their academic colleagues on to a path that is more acceptable to society at large.”

Stonewall crumbling after stifling gender critical dissenters

Stonewall has been in the news constantly since the report commissioned by Essex University exposed its misleading guidance on free speech – which was used to no-platform feminists concerned about the erosion of sex-based rights. The LGBT campaigning organisation is being sued by Allison Bailey, a lesbian lawyer, who alleges that Stonewall tried to stifle her opposition to its stance on transgender rights. Stonewall is backing a legal attempt to remove the LGB Alliance’s charitable status, the gender critical group Bailey co-founded. An effort that Debbie Hayton in the Spectator says should be laughed out of court.

Equalities Minister Liz Truss is urging Government departments to pull out of Stonewall’s “champions” scheme, whereby they have to pay the charity to audit their diversity, equity and inclusion policies, and calls are mounting in the legal profession for law firms and chambers to withdraw from the scheme on the grounds that it is stifling free expression. The Telegraph says the organisation has lost touch with reality, as more and more people who dissent from Stonewall’s increasingly whacky agenda are smeared and abused. In a recent interview, the CEO of Stonewall compared gender critical beliefs to anti-Semitism!

One of its founder members, Simon Fanshawe, has been cancelled by the organisation for disagreeing with its stance on trans issues. “How bitterly ironic that the only freedom Stonewall won’t embrace is the freedom to disagree,” he wrote in the Mail.

Labour MP Dawn Butler launched a poll on Twitter asking her followers who they trusted more, Stonewall or Liz Truss? The Equalities Minister won 69.5%. It isn’t our business what Stonewall wants to campaign for, but it should not try to promote its agenda by stifling dissent, shaming its opponents and handing out inaccurate legal guidance, all of which threatens free speech.

Ollie Robinson attacked for tweets he sent as a teenager

Cricketer Ollie Robinson was forced to apologise after his test match debut for tweets posted almost a decade ago, when he was 18. Nobody’s career should be destroyed for things they said as teenagers, no matter how foolish they might be. We will be monitoring the situation – especially if Robinson faces further sanctions. In the meantime, we would advise all our members with Twitter accounts to install ‘Tweet Delete’, an app that deletes any tweets more than a week old.

King’s College London apologises for sending “harmful” photo of Prince Philip to staff

King’s College London issued an apology after a staff member sent colleagues a 2002 photograph of Prince Philip opening a university library with the Queen. KCL, of which the Prince had been a governor since 1955, said, “Through feedback and subsequent conversations, we have come to realise the harm that this caused members of our community, because of his history of racist and sexist comments. We are sorry to have caused this harm.” This apology has been widely ridiculed.

Wuhan lab leak theory

Writing in the Telegraph, Sherelle Jacobs takes on the huge pressure not to challenge “the Science” that meant the lab leak theory about the origins of Covid-19 was effectively suppressed until a few weeks ago. “The West has found no definitive antidote against everyday impulses of conformism, snobbery and intellectual laziness,” she writes.

Freddie Sayers in UnHerd says that Facebook’s crackdown on “misinformation” about the lab leak hypothesis – a theory now regarded as quite plausible – shows how powerful Big Tech has become.

FSU writes to Met Police over arrest of evangelical preacher

The Free Speech Union has written to Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, following the recent arrest of the evangelical Christian preacher Hatun Tash in Hyde Park. Ms Tash often criticises Islamic doctrine and the Koran, and large groups of protestors, mostly Muslim men, often try to prevent her from speaking. On several occasions the police have responded to this by forcibly removing Ms Tash from Hyde Park, even though she is not the aggressor in these situations. In her latest arrest, property was taken from her by the police and not returned, even though she was released without charge. We’ve asked the police to urgently commit to protecting Tash’s right to free speech, and to provide training for officers so that they understand the right to free expression.

Does the culture war even exist? (Yes)

Our Director Douglas Murray rejects the idea that the culture war is a right-wing fantasy, a claim we frequently hear. Gareth Roberts, also writing in UnHerd, says that far from the culture war being an invention of the Conservative Party, it has taken years “to drag the hopelessly naive and unaware Tories, kicking and screaming” into debates about gender ideology and critical race theory.

Jonathan Ross has spoken out against cancel culture. During an appearance on Loose Women, he said, “You see people being stopped from speaking at universities because they are expressing things that students don’t want to hear… or there’s this new thing called ‘safetyism’, when people are saying, ‘I don’t feel safe at work in this environment because people hold different opinions to me.’ I think that’s dangerous and I think that’s wrong, and that’s an area I would kind of push back on.” His comments were endorsed by Spiked.

Elsewhere, Charles Bremner interviewed Sonia Mabrouk, the combative opponent of woke politics in France, for the Times.

Financial censorship

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has reported on the phenomenon of financial cancelling, where banks or other financial institutions abruptly close accounts of lobby groups and campaign organisations because they disapprove of their politics: “When a handful of online payment services can dictate who has access to financial services, they can also determine which people and which services get to exist in our increasingly digital world. While tech giants like Google and Facebook have come under fire for their content moderation practices and wrongfully banning accounts, financial services haven’t gotten the same level of scrutiny.”

Event: The Online Safety Bill’s Threat to Free Speech

Date and time: Wednesday 16 June 2021, 7-8.30pm on Zoom. 

Join us for the FSU’s first Online In-Depth, an opportunity to ask the experts, get up to speed on a free speech issue and share your views with fellow FSU members. Our experts for the evening are the FSU’s Director of Research Dr Radomir Tylecote and Matthew Lesh, Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute. Rado and Matthew are co-authors of the FSU’s briefing “You’re On Mute: The Online Safety Bill and what the Government should do instead”, a critical assessment of the Government’s Online Safety Bill. Will the Bill make the UK “the safest place in the world to go online” or will it restrict online free speech to a degree almost unprecedented in any democracy? The evening will be hosted by Claire Fox, Director of the Academy of Ideas and a member of the FSU’s Advisory Council. 

You can register here for this members’ only event.

Event: The Great American Race Game

The UK premiere of Martin Durkin’s provocative documentary film on the politics of race in America will be held on 1 July and followed by an interview with the director, with an opportunity for audience members to ask questions. Tickets can be obtained here.

Date and time: Thursday 1 July 2021, 7-10:30pm

Sharing the Newsletter

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Remember, all of our work depends on our members, we receive no public money: sign-up today or encourage a friend to join and help us turn the tide against the censors.

Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones

Case Officer