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. Although this week there’s so much free speech news it isn’t all that brief!

Widespread public opposition to “decolonising” university courses

A new survey has found that just 23% of the public support “decolonising” the university curriculum. But 67% favour students studying “about people, events, materials and subjects from all around the world” with a variety of global perspectives presented in a “fair and even-handed way”.

In an article in the Telegraph criticising the obsession with taking down the Rhodes statue, Oxford academic Dr Marie Kawthar Daouda says that prioritising emotions over learning defeats the very purpose of going to university. Our founder Toby Young was quoted in the Daily Mail on the Rhodes statue.

A letter in the Guardian urges Labour to back the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, which we campaigned for. Michael Meadowcroft writes: “A refusal to take on the debate should only be supported by those who feel unable to sustain it.”

Joanna Williams argues in Spiked that the withdrawal of a university offer over a student’s racist posts is a worrying sign, equivalent to a political test for university admission. The student was reprimanded by his peers for his abhorrent language, and that should have been the end of the matter, she says.

Critical race theory obsession has no place in schools and divides society

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, told the Times: “There is no reason why the work of a ‘dead white man’ is not appropriate for children from ethnic minorities to learn about… We will not create a more harmonious, tolerant and equal society through promoting a curriculum based on relevance to or representativeness of any one group. Nor will we do so by being ashamed of who we are and where we came from.”

Baroness Falkner, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has said “white privilege” is “divisive” and an “unhelpful way of looking at society”.

Professor Edwin Conner wrote an article for the Mail on Sunday objecting to the removal of To Kill A Mockingbird from a Scottish school’s curriculum: “This is not the first time that To Kill A Mockingbird has been targeted. It has been banned by school boards and libraries, such as in Richmond, Virginia, in 1963… Now we have gone 180 degrees and it’s not the right but the left which has the book in the crosshairs.” He is the nephew of Harper Lee.

Meanwhile Yorkshire delicacies like parkin are to be “probed” for links to slavery as part of materials for primary school pupils on empire and colonialism.

Law Commission’s proposals to reform the Communications Act

In September of last year, the Law Commission of England and Wales launched a consultation about reforming the criminal law governing harmful, threatening, and false communications. We submitted a response – and we learned this week that the Commission has taken seriously some of our objections to their provisional proposals. You can read the full report, which was published on 21 July, here and a summary here. As you’ll see if you read the full report, the Commission referred to our submission throughout and, in particular, took on board our concerns about protecting the freedom of the press. Nevertheless, we still have a number of concerns about the Commission’s recommendations. You can read our press release about the report here.

Feminists rally for free speech and women’s rights

We’re supporting our member Natalie Bird, who was barred from seeking office by the Liberal Democrats for 10 years after she wore a t-shirt with the words “Woman: Adult Human Female” on it. The party said she was “transphobic”. She’s now raising funds to fight a legal battle. You can contribute to her fundraiser here. (And don’t forget the fundraiser of the anti-lockdown campaigner Debbie Hicks who is currently trying to defend herself against three separate prosecutions, all of them free speech-related.)

JK Rowling has faced extensive online abuse for her gender critical views, including a recent pipe bomb threat. Andrew Doyle of our Advisory Council spoke about the abuse directed at Rowling on GB News. James Kirkup wrote in the Spectator about the modern-day witch-hunt against her. The author has praised SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC, who will be defending Marion Millar, charged under the Communications Act for her posts opposing transgender self-identification. Millar’s first court hearing has now been postponed. Hundreds of feminists gathered on Glasgow Green to support Marion amid growing fears that women’s rights are playing second fiddle to trans rights in Scotland.

Milli Hill, cancelled for objecting to being told that she had to use the phrase “birthing people” instead of “pregnant women”, gave an interview to the Times about the abuse she’s faced. She said that a lot of the abuse was the work of her professional peers, not random online trolling. Margaret Driscoll writes about Milli and her likeminded colleagues in the Telegraph: “They are a secretive bunch of women who jokingly call themselves The Witches – a group of midwives and birthing professionals holding an increasingly controversial view. It’s one the majority doesn’t dare air in public for fear of losing their job and reputation, or becoming the victim of a social media pile-on.”

Debbie Hayton writes in UnHerd that Ireland’s Gender Recognition Act was passed without scrutiny or debate, and now faces widespread public opposition.

Taking the knee

Our founder Toby Young writes in his Spectator column: “I hope that when the new season gets under way, the spectators interpret the taking of the knee in the way the players intend it and don’t disrespect them. But if some fans do boo, I hope the same benefit of the doubt will be extended to them and they won’t be penalised.”

Free speech report calls for extensive protections

A report by Frances Hoar QC, commissioned by the Reclaim Party leader and actor Laurence Fox has called for six reforms to give freedom of speech the same kind of legal protection enjoyed in the US. It proposes protection for employees who express unfashionable views, and a ban on social media sites censoring posts unless they are criminal. The report includes a call to end the practice of police recording “non-crime hate incidents”, something we have campaigned for. An investigation into NCHIs found a case of a man landed with a police record for whistling the theme from Bob The Builder at his neighbour.

Council made to apologise for removing Christian adverts and ordered to pay compensation

Blackpool Council and Transport have issued a public apology to a Christian evangelical group after removing adverts for their festival from buses. A court found that the Council discriminated against the group and “interfered… with the right to freedom of speech”. Steve Haskett, the trustee of the Lancashire Festival of Hope, told the Christian Institute: “If they wanted to silence Christians in being able to speak publicly about their view of marriage, which I think really was the entire point of the whole thing in the first place, what they’ve done is actually brought us to a place where it’s clearer in law than it was before, that it is acceptable and right and protected to hold those views, so we’re very, very satisfied with the outcome.” The Council – or rather the taxpayer – must now pay £25,000 in damages, and £84,000 in costs for discrimination.

Cancel culture and the culture war

The director of the Olympics opening ceremony was sacked just one day before the event because of a joke he made in the 1990s about the Holocaust. The joke, which is incomprehensible to non-Japanese audiences, was made when he was performing as a stand-up comedian 23 years ago.

It is a myth that Boris Johnson is fighting a culture war, writes Brendan O’Neill in Spiked. “Yes, sometimes the Conservative government makes culture war noises, but usually only against fairly easy targets,” he writes. “They will critique critical race theory, for example, but leave untouched the broader racialisation of everyday life. They will reprimand Stonewall for foisting genderfluid nonsense in workplaces, but fail to properly stand up for the truth of biological sex, the importance of women’s rights, and the centrality of words like man, woman, mother and father to the functioning of community life.”

Ella Whelan warns of the danger of cancel culture emerging on the right as well as the left.

Comedians mustn’t be silenced just because they hurt people’s feelings, writes Louis Wise in the Telegraph.

James Marriott writes in the Times about the way woke language codes are used to show superiority and status.

Lord Kalms and Lord Willoughby de Broke have been banned from Parliament’s bars and restaurants after they failed to attend “Valuing Everyone” training.

Modern blasphemy

Laurence Fox writes for Spiked that the Equality Act has created an anti-blasphemy law by stealth: “The law is far more influential than it first appears on paper. Institutions, activists and members of the public have stretched the law far beyond its original intentions. Take, for instance, one of the protesters outside Batley Grammar School, who made the claim that his faith was ‘protected in law’ from insult. Parliament has not passed a blasphemy law, so where has the confidence to make claims like this come from? It is hardly a great leap to trace it back to the protected characteristics in the Equality Act.”

Anjem Choudary is now free to speak publicly again. He has already given his first public speech since leaving prison.

Kurt Westergaard, the cartoonist who drew Mohammed for Jyllands-Posten and faced assassination attempts, has died at the age of 86.

Tech censorship

The left has taken over Wikipedia, destroying its neutrality, says co-creator Larry Sanger.

Mary Harrington says digital censorship is inevitable.

Under government plans journalists could face up to 14 years in prison for receiving certain leaked documents.

FSU Speakeasy with Kathleen Stock

If you were not among those members who attended the speakeasy earlier this month in which Toby interviewed philosophy professor Kathleen Stock, you can now watch it on our YouTube channel here. Please do subscribe to our YouTube channel. Once we reach a certain number of subscribers we can then start monetizing it (assuming our channel isn’t demonetized).

Sharing the Newsletter

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Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones

Case Officer