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.

BBC threatens opponents of trans ideology

The BBC has been widely ridiculed after BBC Sport threatened to report commentators on its website who questioned whether Laurel Hubbard, the biological male who identifies as a woman, should be competing against women at the Olympics. Emma Webb, our Deputy Research Director, told the Mail: “By threatening to report offensive posts to the police, the BBC has not only failed to discharge its duty of impartiality, it has actively sought to silence a debate about women’s rights that is of high public interest.” In the Critic Rob Jessel and Madison Smith said the BBC has crossed “from puffery to pure propaganda” in its coverage of Hubbard.

FSU member James Esses was forced off his psychotherapy course – after three years of study and spending tens of thousands of pounds – because he’d expressed concerns on social media about children being fast-tracked into gender reassignment. A crowdfunder James launched so he can take his course provider to court quickly raised the money he needs. You can read an interview with James in Spiked.

Julie Bindel rails against employers who ask their staff to state their preferred personal pronouns in UnHerd. She says the pressure is “as offensive as it is unnecessary” and a form of sexist bullying. “My advice to anyone being asked to include pronouns in email sign-offs, meetings or wherever, is to politely refuse. The more of us that refuse to go along with this offensive doctrine, the better.”

A feminist solicitor in Sydney who provides pro bono legal advice for women on low incomes has lost her accommodation grant after local politicians downgraded her tenancy rating because of her affiliation with gender critical feminist groups.

Patrick Kidd roasts the Guardian for not including JK Rowling’s birthday in its celebrity birthday column because of her gender critical views. “Still, at least they found room for Dean Cain, the 1990s Superman actor, Victoria Azarenka, world No 15 in tennis, and the jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell,” he writes.

Legal updates

A train conductor sacked for comparing the UK in lockdown to a “Muslim alcohol-free caliphate” will be able to take his case forward to a full employment tribunal after the judge ruled that his secular worldview was protected by the Equality Act.

Another welcome ruling came in the case of lawyer Nirosha Sithirapathy. She had claimed that her manager asking about her personal life in connection with a new post in Switzerland constituted “sexual harassment”. Judge Emma Hawksworth did not accept that argument and said in her ruling: “The comments were unfortunate and awkward. However, we bear in mind the importance of not encouraging a culture of hyper-sensitivity or of imposing legal liability to every unfortunate phrase.”

Andrew Tettenborn of our Legal Advisory Council spoke to BBC Radio Wales about the Government’s planned reform of the Official Secrets Act, which would significantly jeopardise freedom of the press. (The proposal is that journalists who publish official secrets would become liable for prosecution.) You can listen to his comments here from 21 mins 50 seconds. Separately, Andrew wrote for Spiked about the case of the Grenfell Tower effigy and the Law Commission’s proposed reforms to the Communications Act, which we’ve given a qualified welcome to: “The state has no business prosecuting those who make jokes in vile taste to their pals at private parties, nor those expressing their views to a closed group of friends.”

Teachers told to promote social justice

Teachers in Scotland have been instructed to promote “social justice” in a move condemned as political indoctrination that will make pupils “conform to a rigid set of beliefs”. New guidance published by the General Teaching Council for Scotland instructs teachers to promote “social justice, diversity and sustainability”. It says teachers and pupils must “acknowledge Scotland’s place in the world, our history, our differences and diversity, our unique natural environment, and our culture based on social justice” and that social justice must “underpin our… thinking and professional practice”.

Ed Dorrell writes in the Independent about polling he commissioned that found considerable public opposition to “decolonising” curriculums. He concludes: “We should perhaps avoid complaining that there are, for example, too many ‘dead white men’ in literature set-text lists, and instead focus on making the canon bigger and more inclusive, not less. The British public evidently believe that young people should learn about cultures other than their own. But they also like traditional subjects and traditional works of literature.”

Meanwhile, the state of academic freedom in our universities is so poor that historian Niall Ferguson is thinking of starting a conservative university. Writing in UnHerd, Peter Franklin says this is a bad idea: “We don’t need a ‘right-wing university’. Rigorous scholarship and open debate should be the key principles, not ideological conformity. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel here, we just need institutions that respect and uphold basic intellectual freedoms in the manner in which our universities once prided themselves.”

Culture War

Ed West argues in UnHerd that conservatives have left the field in the culture war and the battles of the last decade have really been struggles between rival factions of post-1968 progressives.

The Charity Commission has rejected a complaint against Barnardos for publishing a blog post on “white privilege”. The complaint was lodged by the Common Sense Group of Conservative MPs and peers who labelled the post “ideological dogma”.

Un-cancelled artist Jess de Wahls writes for UnHerd about how artists have lost their courage: “Having grown up in East Berlin – a breeding ground for its own type of severe authoritarianism – I am increasingly aware of the parallels between today and the censorious regime that shaped most of my grandparents’ lives and my parents’ formative years. There is a creeping anxiety towards expressing any thought that could be perceived as criticism or scepticism towards an orthodox narrative. You can be punished, socially ostracised and fired at a moment’s notice. In effect, nobody is free from the consequences of their speech.”

The Vegan Society has been rocked by resignations amid a row about whether veganism is a form of “cultural appropriation” and whether the society is a “safe place” for “young, black, queer or any other marginalised people”. We’ve heard of the Left eating itself, but not vegans. Isn’t that against their principles?

All Premier League clubs will take the knee after a consultation, and Trevor Birch, chief executive of the English Football League, said: “The message is clear – prejudice and abuse – whether in the street, in the stadium or online has no place in society – and the EFL will not accept it. Football is a game with many opinions. But those who do not share our opinion on removing racism and discrimination from our game are not welcome.” If any of our members get into trouble for booing this gesture when the football season resumes, they should get in touch.

Newspaper editor Allister Heath bemoans the decline of the American Presidency in the Telegraph, with Joe Biden and those around him embracing “the anti-democratic worldview which now dominates universities, big business, government and cultural institutions, [where] free speech is dismissed as violence, conservatism as fascism and differences of opinion as ‘micro-aggressions’”. And while we’re on the subject of America: self-proclaimed “First Amendment auditors” are filming altercations with the police to expose “police officers who don’t honour their oath to the constitution”.

Meanwhile, Russian theatres are being investigated to ensure their compliance with a new national security decree. It’s as if the Berlin Wall had never fallen.

Defending street preachers

Stephen Wigmore has written a piece in the Critic in defence of the eccentric street preachers who, by exercising their right to free speech, are standing up for that right on all of our behalfs. Let them be silenced, he says, and you’ll be next. Also in the Critic, Noel Yaxley takes up the case of Hatun Tash, the Muslim-turned-Christian preacher and critic of Islam who was slashed in the face at Speakers’ Corner a couple of weeks ago. (You can read our letter to Cressida Dick about Hatun Tash here.) FSU New Zealand, our sister organisation, has spoken out in defence of street preachers likely to be targeted under the country’s new “hate speech” proposals. Police in New Zealand are already claiming preachers are “very close to the line”.

The lab leak theory

Ashley Rindsberg in UnHerd asks whether the New York Times stifled the lab leak theory because of the paper’s commercial relationships with China.

Tech and social media

Piers Morgan cries foul over Google’s censorship of his comments about gymnast Simone Biles, claiming it’s a threat to all of our free speech. Pity he failed to notice the online censorship of lockdown sceptics, such as Oxford professor Sunetra Gupta, Harvard professor Martin Kulldorff, Stanford professor Jay Bhattacharya and Nobel Prize winner Michael Levitt.

Twitter and Facebook have been criticised after a large study found that 90% of antisemitic posts stay online despite being reported.

Laura Freeman writes in the Telegraph that Wikipedia has reduced people’s knowledge, leaving users reliant on a narrow selection of sources and the decisions of left-leaning editors.

Substack has acquired Letter, a free speech platform.

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Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones

Case Officer