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.

Politicians still too scared to defend Batley teacher

Dan Hodges went to Batley ahead of yesterday’s by-election to report on the failure of the main political parties to address the fate of the teacher driven from his home, along with his wife and two young children, because he showed a cartoon of Mohammed in class. “In a quiet British town, a man has been disappeared. Yet this act of erasure has been greeted not by a righteous outcry, but a conspiracy of silence. Both local and national.” We won’t let this case be forgotten.

Guido Fawkes reports that the Jo Cox Foundation has made a donation of £1,000 to a charity called Purpose of Life, which named the Batley teacher, exposing him to serious danger – and this was after the teacher had gone into hiding in fear of his life. Apparently, the Labour candidate in Batley and Spen, who is Jo Cox’s sister, was an ambassador for the Jo Cox Foundation when the donation was made. We lodged a complaint with the Charity Commission about the Purpose of Life in March and were told the Commission is investigating it. Its Chief Executive accused the Batley teacher of “terrorism” and “insulting Islam”. The only figure in the by-election who raised the issue was Laurence Fox, who was not even a candidate – he held a free speech rally in Batley, which he spoke to Kathy Gyngell about in Conservative Woman. Tanya Gold, writing in UnHerd, said the by-election had become a “toxic battle”.

Violence, or the threat of violence, should have no place in British politics. But a spate of arson attacks in Scotland have driven one councillor out of his home and out of political life.

BBC Pride board seeks editorial control

LGBT activists at the BBC are demanding the right to vet news stories on transgender issues following a widely-ridiculed interview given by Benjamin Cohen of Pink News on the Today programme. A BBC “diversity and inclusion officer” who is a member of the BBC’s Pride Board encouraged staff to complain about the broadcast, the Mail on Sunday reports. FSU founder Toby Young was quoted in the article: “It’s extremely alarming that a group of LGBT activists within the BBC think they can dictate how Stonewall is covered by the Corporation. There is a bust of George Orwell outside the BBC’s headquarters with the quote, ‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.’ The BBC would do well to remind its Pride Board of those words.”

The Business Department is the latest ministry to announce a review into its membership of Stonewall’s workplace diversity programme. We will be publishing a briefing document on Stonewall by Carrie Clark and Shelley Charlesworth entitled “Stonewall’s Censorship Champions” on our website later today.

We welcome the Observer editorial declaring: “Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and a cornerstone of democracy, which cannot flourish unless citizens can articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship or sanction. So it should concern anyone who claims to be a democrat that there is growing evidence that women who have expressed a set of feminist beliefs that have come to be known as ‘gender-critical’ have, in some cases, faced significant professional penalties as a result.” Let’s hope its sister paper, the Guardian, publishes something similar. Julie Bindel writes in the Spectator that lesbians are being “erased” by trans activists.

Writing in the Critic, Josephine Bartosch says today’s “elite artists are ideological zombies” and that “most submit to censorship; mindful of both the woke sensibilities of their Silicon Valley overlords and those of the institutions on which their livelihoods depend”. Gender critical female artists are particular targets, but the recent case of Jess de Wahls – cancelled and then uncancelled by the Royal Academy – gives some hope that the climate is changing.

Prevent farce

An 11-year-old primary school pupil was referred to Prevent after his teacher misheard “give alms to the oppressed” as “give arms to the oppressed”.

The headmaster of St Dunstan’s College has said that “incredibly anxious” teachers are in fear of a “a righteous generation of children looking for their teachers to trip up” over “micro-aggressions”. He said schools were becoming places where “everyone [is] walking on eggshells terrified of using the wrong word”.

No need to spell properly at oonivars!ty

A number of UK universities are now stigmatising academics who mark down bad spelling or grammar, on the grounds that it’s not “inclusive”. The Telegraph reported that a marking policy at the University of Hull challenges “homogenous North European, white, male, elite mode[s] of expression”. Zoe Strimpel, a member of our Advisory Council, railed against this nonsense in her Telegraph column, and the Office for Students has now launched a review of universities that “disregard poor spelling, punctuation and grammar”. If any academics have been penalised for correcting their students’ bad English we encourage them to contact us.

Cancel culture comes for “picnic”, “leper”, Wagner, French cooking and a free press

Leo McKinstry takes aim at cancel culture in his Express column: “Open debate, freedom of expression and respect for other voices are disappearing under a wave of divisive infantile hysteria, which in turn is fuelled by social media full of conspiracy theories, simplistic politics and vicious witch-hunts. Too many of our institutions, instead of standing up for order and civility, collude with extremism, dressing up their cowardice as a form of inclusion.”

The departure of Winston Marshall from Mumford & Sons should be a warning, writes Jack Gebhard in the Times. The guitarist left the band after a Twitter mob targeted him for praising Andy Ngo’s book on Antifa. Alexander Larman called it “a terrifying indictment of free speech and society that Marshall’s piece of literary criticism first merited an apology, and now defenestration”.

The Edinburgh Festival is rebuffing calls to cancel a play which its critics say mocks the religious beliefs of Hindus.

Anne Robinson has hit out at cancel culture in an interview with the BBC. Jeremy Vine called the current censorious climate “capricious and unfair” and said he worried about being cancelled. American composer Steve Reich said cancel culture helped nobody, citing Wagner as an example of a great composer likely to be targeted in an interview with Neil Fisher for the Times.

Novelist Joyce Carol Oates criticised Brandeis University’s bizarre list of banned words: “trigger warning” and “picnic” are both included. She said: “What is strange is that while the word ‘picnic’ is suggested for censorship, because it evokes, in some persons, lynchings of Black persons in the US, the word ‘lynching’ is not itself censored.” Melanie McDonagh took apart the “Oppressive Language List” in the Telegraph.

The Church of Scotland’s official magazine is under fire for giving “Outcast (5)” as the clue for the word “leper”. Leprosy Mission Scotland has said that the word leper should be “deleted”, in favour of “people affected by leprosy”.

What does Extinction Rebellion have against a free press, asks Mark Piggott in the Spectator, after the police thwarted its latest efforts to disrupt the distribution of the Sun and the Mail.

An American academic has said France’s cuisine is an “expression of white privilege”. Let’s hope no one tells Raymond Blanc.

Critical race theory

Oxfam’s staff have been made to answer a ridiculous survey on “whiteness” and “white privilege”. Employees found the survey’s language “impenetrable, offensive and divisive”, the Times reported. Brendan O’Neill wrote about the chilling effect the survey had on the free speech of Oxfam’s employees.

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Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones

Case Officer