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.

Catholic priest cancelled by Nottingham University speaks to BBC and GB News

Our support for Father David Palmer, the Catholic priest blocked from becoming Nottingham University’s new chaplain because of his tweets opposing abortion and euthanasia, is referred to in a BBC report in which Father Palmer says he is considering taking legal action. In our letter to the University’s Vice-Chancellor we warned that Nottingham’s decision to block Father Palmer was likely to a form of unlawful discrimination.

Father David Palmer also spoke to GB News. He said: “No-one is going to be surprised that a Catholic priest is opposed to abortion and euthanasia. It’s as basic as you get.” Gavin Ashenden, the Queen’s former chaplain and a convert to Catholicism, has written about the university’s illiberal anti-Catholic stance for Christian Today.

British institutions colonised by American ideology

The BBC has “offered” staff an “allyship” test to see how “privileged” they are, the Telegraph reports. The test includes questions on whether you feel able to “express” your sexuality in the workplace and what your “gender identity” is. Another question asks whether staff “identify as white”. The quiz offers advice at the end, encouraging employees to “shut down” inappropriate jokes “even if no one’s hurt by them”. Michael Deacon in the Telegraph suggests the BBC needs to check its own privilege.

Also in the Telegraph Melanie McDonagh has written about the prevalence of woke ideology in British schools. One of the aims of woke teachers is to “decolonise” the curriculum, but that usually means rewriting it so it incorporates various fashionable ideas from America, such as critical race theory, thereby turning British schools into a colonial outpost of American social justice ideology. McDonagh says that an activist minority in the profession, many of them recent graduates, are driving this change.

Calvin Robinson has written in the Telegraph about the NHS’s employment of an army of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion ‘experts’ to promote “anti-white propaganda”. One blog post on the NHS’s Leadership Academy website begins: “Dear white people…” The post advised white NHS employees to “work on their empathy”, among other things. It seems like an odd use of resources if the NHS really is in the midst of a financial crisis.

Liberalism is under attack from China and extremists on the right and left, says the Economist. The magazine’s leader article goes on to say that classical liberalism is “undergoing a severe test” as the commitment to Enlightenment ideals like free speech is under attack, both from within and without. But Charlotte Ivers argues we shouldn’t worry about the capture of “great British cultural institutions” by the woke left because they “no longer hold the power they once did”.

Comedy in the age of cancel culture

Sheffield Council’s decision to cancel comedian Roy Chubby Brown, who was due to perform at Sheffield City Hall, has been lambasted on GB News. The move will make him a free speech martyr, says theatre critic Dominic Cavendish. The Council has refused to back down, but one councillor has warned that the move to ban him from City Hall, where he has been performing for 30 years, was a “very slippery slope”. Rod Liddle says in his Spectator column that the councillors and MPs behind the efforts to cancel Brown will suffer politically. If you don’t think Roy Chubby Brown should be banned from performing at Sheffield City Hall, you can sign this petition.

Comedian Janey Godley, hired by the Scottish government to front a Covid-19 public information campaign, has apologised for using “highly offensive language” on Twitter. Conservative MSP Douglas Lumsden has contacted a theatre where Godley is due to perform to raise her “history of offensive and derogatory language on social media”, questioning whether it is “appropriate” for her to star in a family pantomime.

Jay Leno says cancel culture is a “fact of life” and described how he has stopped joking about sex, sexism, race or politics. Nick Dixon, a member of our Advisory Council, says in Spiked that Leno has surrendered to cancel culture.

Comedian David Spade has spoken about how the fear created by woke Witchfinders-General makes him worry about even quite recent jokes he’s told in comedy sets.

Cult-like cancel culture must be opposed

Following a Daily Record article trawling through the past tweets of the staff of a Rangers FC podcast – which resulted in two employees having to resign and apologise – the newspaper itself has now been forced to start an investigation after Rangers supporters compiled a dossier of distasteful comments made by the paper’s staff. This YouTube video, in which the editor of the podcast explains how he and Rangers’ fans turned the tables on the Record’s offense archaeologists, is well worth a watch.

A cult survivor has compared cancel culture to her own upbringing – when she had to read books in secret – and says modern life is beginning to resemble the cult she escaped from in 2013. Katie Morgan-Davies, who fled the Communist Collective, told the Sunday Times: “I feel like there is an element of 1984. We have to think in a certain way and speak in a certain way.”

FSU Advisory Council member Zoe Strimple says defenders of free speech cannot afford to rest on their laurels as censorship (and self-censorship) is spreading throughout the UK’s institutions and workplaces. She writes in the Telegraph: “A sinister creep of real censorship is afoot which marks a more serious and permanent shift. Nobody much cares, in their heart of hearts, what students yell about. But when restrictions on what can and cannot be said on the public record, no matter how fair, become so onerous that whole reams of truth risk becoming imperilled, then we should be scared.”

Sam Wallace has written in the Telegraph about the FA’s ridiculous decision to charge Middlesbrough defender Marc Bola for an offensive tweet posted nine years ago when he was just 14.

Rav Arora describes what it’s like to be cancelled – and how to survive the experience – in the New York Post.

Portland State University has become a “social justice factory”

Professor Peter Boghossian has written a “devastating” resignation letter to the Provost of Portland State over its complete surrender to woke ideology. He says the institution is now “a social justice factory whose only inputs are race, gender, and victimhood and whose only outputs are grievance and division”. Professor Boghossian goes on: “Students at Portland State are not being taught to think. Rather, they are being trained to mimic the moral certainty of ideologues… Faculty and administrators have abdicated the university’s truth-seeking mission and instead drive intolerance of divergent beliefs and opinions. This has created a culture of offence where students are now afraid to speak openly and honestly.”

Magdalen College students are up in arms against the College President, Dinah Rose QC, because she is representing the Cayman Islands in court, defending its ban on gay marriage.


Alex Bramham, hounded out of a Pride parade for his support of the LGB Alliance, writes in the Critic that gay dissenters from trans ideology are increasingly finding a home on the right.

The Guardian has cleaned up an interview it did with the American gender theorist Judith Butler, who suggested that believing sex is inextricably connected to biology was “one of the dominant strains of fascism in our time”. Ella Whelan points out in the Critic that redacting controversial comments can’t hide them forever in the Twitter age.

Culture war

Author and journalist Ed West has spoken to Triggernometry – the podcast hosted by FSU Advisory Council members Konstantin Kisin and Frances Foster – about whether conservatives have lost the culture war, and Dr Nikos Sotirakopoulos, a sociology lecturer, explores the role of tribalism in fuelling culture war clashes in an article for UnHerd.

Alison MacLeod has written about the Chatterley trial for the Telegraph. Why is the world of arts and letters being plunged back into a pre-Chatterley era?

Hollywood must stop kowtowing to Chinese censorship

Jawad Iqbal argues in the Times that Hollywood must stop bending over backwards to avoid China’s wrath – particularly as it doesn’t work, with the seemingly anodyne new Marvel blockbuster being banned in China. He writes: “Nothing appears off-limits when it comes to Hollywood kowtowing to one of the world’s most censorious regimes.”

Dorian Lynskey has written an essay in UnHerd about the dying art of film reviewing as critics are increasingly trying to avoid making negative judgements for fear of the social media backlash.

Big tech

Our Deputy Research Director Emma Webb appeared on GB News to talk about the threat to free speech posed by censorious social media companies like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

The Online Safety Bill has been described as “fundamentally flawed” by the lobby group Big Brother Watch, which has warned that the legislation will have a seriously chilling effect on free speech. Mark Johnson has written in UnHerd about the secretive Counter Disinformation Cell, a group of public officials “tasked with scouring social media platforms and flagging ‘disinformation’ with the platforms themselves” with the aim of getting the content removed and the authors banned. He says that the Online Safety Bill “will be the final culmination of this power convergence, where corporate terms and conditions and domestic law will be synonymous, and the platforms’ power will be consolidated by state legitimacy”. You can read our briefing on the Online Safety Bill here.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has signed a decree aimed at stopping tech companies from removing accounts and content that they politically disapprove of.

The Great Lockdown Debate

Our General Secretary Toby Young will be participating in a debate in London on 27 September about the Covid lockdowns alongside Oxford Professor of Medicine Carl Heneghan, businessman Luke Johnson, former Deputy Speaker Natascha Engel and Times leader writer Oliver Kamm. The motion is: “The lockdowns of the past year caused more harm than good.” If you’d like a ticket, you can buy one here.

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Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones

Case Officer