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 Bill clears second reading

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill passed its second reading on Monday. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson wrote in the Telegraph: “Staff and students should be free to discuss, debate and debunk the views of others without fear of censure, and I am deeply saddened that this is increasingly not the case.” We’ve campaigned for this legislation,  as the Daily Mail noted, and you can read our briefing about it – written by Deputy Research Director Emma Webb – here. Labour called the legislation the “hate speech bill” and voted against it.

The Fabian Society has published a report which claims that rows over race, cancel culture and gender are “fabricated fights” whipped up by opportunistic politicians. FSU Chair Professor Nigel Biggar and Advisory Council member Dr Arif Ahmed rebutted this claim in a joint article for the Telegraph. About 50 people a week contact us for help, fearing cancellation or serious consequences for having said something controversial or unfashionable. Similarly, Professor Eric Kaufman, also a member of our Advisory Council, challenged the idea in UnHerd that the “culture war is a Right-wing plot to win votes”.

Meanwhile, the Online Safety Bill has been delayed, but only temporarily. This legislation will be a disaster for free speech online. FSU Director Douglas Murray writes in UnHerd about the sinister influence of Twitter, and its practice of “shadow-banning” users, whereby their posts are suppressed without their being notified. Meanwhile, concerns have been raised that police officers are being silenced on social media to comply with European rules.

Batley teacher fundraiser tops £50,000

Thank you to all those who donated to the crowd-funder for the Batley grammar school teacher and his family. Nearly £60,000 has been raised. You can donate here. The electoral fallout of the Batley cartoon affair is explored in Spiked.

Please contribute to the fundraiser of Debbie Hicks, the anti-lockdown campaigner who is currently trying to defend herself against three separate prosecutions, all of them free speech-related. We now think one of those cases – involving her right to protest – may end up in the High Court, which means she’ll need to raise about £7,000.

Scotland’s free speech clampdown

Scotland’s new Hate Crime Act will cost more than £1 million to enforce. We campaigned against this legislation and, despite some amendments, it remains a critical threat to free speech.

Senior MSPs have demanded that journalists undergo training on “on the role that the media play in fostering Islamophobia”, jeopardising press freedom. Recent events show that the Scottish government “is implacably opposed to the right to free speech, the most essential human right in any democracy”, writes Alistair Bonnington in the Times. He adds: “In his dystopian novel even Orwell didn’t envisage someone being prosecuted for saying that men self-declaring themselves to be women are still men. But that will happen this month when Marion Millar appears at Glasgow sheriff court.”

Decolonisation and Critical Race Theory

Professor Graham Virgo, Cambridge’s Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, has said “there is no place within our community for those who do not share our values”, sending a clear message to dissenting academics. He defended the Report + Support snitching portal that was removed after our intervention. The site was saturated with Critical Race Theory – such as the claim that only white people can be racist. The Cambridge historian David Abulafia has written in the Spectator that these concepts are now being trotted out by people “unaware that this is the language of a subversive theory about society and history, a new way of deploying arguments and disputing facts”. Critical Race Theory has even got its claws into bird-watching: “offensive” species names are to be dropped, after a review from the Entomological Society of America.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is changing its curriculum to make it “anti-racist” and is revising some of its course content because of its links to “colonialism and racial discrimination”, the Telegraph reports. Pearson is adding four new plays to its GCSE Drama curriculum to “decolonise the syllabus”. Professor Matthew Goodwin, a member of our Advisory Council, asks in UnHerd if Britain will survive the “woke wave”.

Andrew Doyle, another member of our Advisory Council, spoke to Colin Brazier on GB News about the claims that Britain is a racist country, following the racist abuse of England players on social media. Andrew discussed a piece of analysis by the Guardian and Hope Not Hate which found that only 44 of the 585,000 Twitter comments about the England players during the group stages of the Euros were explicitly racist, or 0.0075%. Andrew said: “What these stats also show us is… that racists are still very much on the fringes of society… We live in a society where to be openly racist makes you a pariah and rightly so.”

Eric Kaufman writes that Canada is the world’s “first woke nation”, entirely captured by the “religion of antiracism”. Justin Trudeau’s government has introduced legislation that would define hate crime as a “communication that expresses detestation or vilification of an individual or group of individuals on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination”.

Education consultants and activists in California are poised to make a fortune from a new curriculum that advocates for the “decolonization” of American society. That is the sort of thing that has prompted a group of US academics to sign a Commitment to Academic Freedom and Tolerance. The statement affirms “that our primary purpose as an institution of higher learning is to foster the pursuit of truth by means of free, open, and rigorous intellectual inquiry”. Meanwhile, the US Navy has been told to focus on its core mission –sinking enemy ships – rather than woke training programmes.

Cancellation corner

Jess De Wahls wrote for the Spectator about her experience of being cancelled (and then un-cancelled) by the Royal Academy. “A bunch of enraged embroiderers went for the jugular and published a screenshot from my website showing all the places that stock my embroidered floral patches”, she wrote, after which she was dropped by the RA. Following a furore, she was given a public apology and the decision was reversed. Suzanne Moore writes in the Telegraph that “every week another woman heads for the ducking stool for challenging gender ideology and its ever more reductive language”.

Former Mumford and Sons guitarist Winston Marshall wrote of his amazement at the overwhelmingly positive response his statement about leaving the band received: “It seems as if, in explaining why I felt I could not carry on, I had articulated something that many people feel in their daily lives: self-censorship. In the current febrile political climate, many of us are just too scared to say what we think.”

FSU founder Toby Young has co-edited Panics and Persecutions, a collection of essays and stories that “lay bare the human toll of modern ideological inquisitions” and cancel culture. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in her review, wrote: “We are living through an intellectual crisis. The woke ideology is overwhelming our cultural and political institutions, as well as captivating many of the young minds in our society. But, in these pages, you will find ordinary people standing up for what is right.” You can order a copy of the paperback for £12.99 here.

Zoe Dubno writes about the rise of “sensitivity readers”, now employed in vetting novels and student newspapers that cover racial or transgender issues so that novelists and journalists can avoid saying anything that challenges prevailing orthodoxies. Didn’t that used to be part of their job?

Censors permit swearing in 15-certificate films

The British Board of Film Classification has concluded that the most offensive swear-words can be tolerated in 15-certificate films if it is done for comic effect.

Come and work for the Free Speech Union

We’re looking to hire a Membership Director. Do you have an excellent track record of managing member relationships and growing a membership organisation? Have you got strong experience in member communications and administration? Are you able to develop and deliver not-for-profit, digitally driven strategies? If so, and if you care passionately about free speech, please apply. The job will initially be for two days a week, but will grow as more members join. The salary is £45,000 – £50,000 per annum, pro rated. You can find out more here and you can apply by sending a CV and introductory letter to jobs@freespeechunion.org.

Helping children discuss contention issues in schools

Not The Easy Way is a project led by educational and child psychologists Dr Claire McGuiggan and Dr Peter D’Lima which aims to support free speech and promote diversity of opinion in schools. They have released a video with Calvin Robinson discussing how young people can respectfully discuss contentious issues, and why this is important. The video is short and can be used as a stimulus for discussions in schools with young people. Visit their website for more resources or get in touch with Peter and Claire if you or your school would like to get involved.

Sharing the Newsletter

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Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones

Case Officer