Welcome to the Free Speech Union’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. Like all of our work this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign-up today or encourage a friend to join and help us turn the tide against cancel culture.
Professor Kathleen Stock faces bullying campaign to force her out at Sussex
Professor Kathleen Stock is facing a coordinated attempt to have her sacked from Sussex University by campus activists. The University has put out a strong statement defending her right to academic freedom, although one of Kathleen’s colleagues at Sussex “saluted” the demonstrators and praised their “resistance”. We have written to the interim Vice-Chancellor asking for his assurance that Kathleen will be protected and the organisers of what is almost certainly an unlawful campaign of harassment and intimidation will be punished.
Universities have been accused of abusing their power by subjecting newly-arrived undergraduates to tests on their “personal guilt” and “unconscious bias”. Writing in the Times, Clare Foges says the battery of ideological tests that students are made to sit will be a disaster for them, for universities, and for future employers. She says: “These students will become so used to mono-thought that they will soon start to police others’ opinions too. A few years later they will go out into the world, believing that making a difference means making demands for others to abide by the illiberal orthodoxy, or else. And so cultural intolerance creeps, the mind virus spreading from universities to workplaces to homes.”
Kristina Murkett compares St Andrews’ new induction modules to 16th century Calvinism, but the doctrine now is “personal guilt” rather than “original sin”. Tim Stanley makes a similar argument about the origins of “woke” dogma in his Telegraph column. One student who took the St Andrew’s test has written for UnHerd about the patronising content. Our reaction to these deeply troubling tests was quoted in Breitbart. Michael Deacon has put together a mock test in his Telegraph column to find out if his readers are woke enough to go to university. (Answer: No.)
Oxford Students For Life had their stall vandalised by protestors and their materials placed in a black bin after an altercation at a freshers’ fair. The Student Union has apologised – not to the students who were attacked, but to the demonstrators who were offended by their anti-abortion stance. Meanwhile, an Exeter University pro-life group is facing death threats. The ongoing campaign against the Exeter society has been reported in the Daily Mail and the Telegraph.The Student Guild at Exeter has put out a statement defending the society’s right to free speech.
A Bristol University feminist student group called Women Talk Back is suing the Student Union after a 45-minute stand-off when a male student demanded entry into a female-only talk. Its president – made to resign by the Union and barred from holding another leadership position – has written about the affair for the Critic.
David Miller has been sacked as a lecturer by the University of Bristol after being accused of inciting hatred towards Jewish students. Frank Furedi writes in Spiked that Miller’s right to academic freedom should be defended, even though Miller himself has a long history of trying to deny the right to free speech to his opponents and “personifies cancel culture”.
Separately, Furedi writes in the Critic that education must be saved from those seeking to politicise the classroom and teach concepts like “white privilege” and “white fragility” as empirical facts. Critical Race Theory now has a new guise, says Ayaan Hirsi Ali in UnHerd, and often comes packaged as “equity” by its proponents.
Toby Young, our General Secretary, will be in conversation with Frank Furedi about the origins of the woke cult in our fourth members-only Online Speakeasy on October 25th. More details below.
Conservatives promise action against cancel culture and woke agenda
The Prime Minister used his Conservative Party conference speech to attack cancel culture and “woke” campaigns against the UK’s history. Following the speech, Sebastian Payne wrote in the Financial Times that the word “woke” has become too broad and lost all meaning. Oliver Dowden, the new Conservative Party co-chair, told the Party conference that anyone who opposes cancel culture or woke ideology is immediately accused of starting a culture war. He described cancel culture as “bullying and haranguing”. Historian David Olusoga has called for black history to be taught “off curriculum and off grid” because the Conservatives are “weaponising” the curriculum in the culture war.
“Imagine if someone had told you back in the 1980s that in the future the Tories would proudly host a pro-homosexual movement at their annual conference, and that the left would be screaming in fury from the sidelines and demanding that these hateful, dangerous homosexuals be silenced,” writes Brendan O’Neill in Spiked. He’s referring, of course, to the furore from some trans activists over the LGB Alliance’s appearance at the Conservative Party conference.
Caroline Ffisk argues in the Critic that the Government has failed to understand that it is propping up “contentious policy and administrative positions” – such as the view that sex is “assigned at birth” – by failing to rein in civil servants and quangos.
The Government is resisting calls to make misogyny a hate crime.
NHS spends hundreds of thousands of pounds on winning gender ideology compliance “awards”
NHS policy documents compare women who want to be on single-sex wards to racists, according to a whistleblower. Caroline Ffiske has written an article in the Critic about the vast sums of money being spent by the NHS in an effort to win “awards” for their adherence to transgender ideology. Meanwhile, the BBC is reportedly withdrawing from Stonewall’s “Diversity Champions” scheme.
Why aren’t the left defending workers from cancel culture?
Nick Cohen has asked why the progressive left isn’t fighting for the rights of employees who’ve been sacked for saying things their employers disapprove of outside office hours. He writes in the Observer: “In the popular imagination, ‘progressives’ are people who tell you what to say and how to say it and will demand your employer fires you if you refuse. The bossy left has become the bosses’ left.”
Simon Fanshawe says workplace cancel culture is making frank dialogue between colleagues impossible and urges HR professionals to change the culture of fear that leaves people walking on eggshells. Brendan O’Neill in Spiked agrees: “The left’s violent turn against freedom of speech is a tragedy. It is contributing to a culture of self-censorship, with many people increasingly unwilling to express their true thoughts in public, lest a mob brand them transphobic, Islamophobic, or some other phobic.” But don’t expect this to get better any time soon. In Forbes, Evan Nierman warns that cancel culture is here to stay.
Writing in UnHerd, Kat Rosenfield explores the “practice of cancelling ordinary people for minor public rudeness”, giving the example of Emma Sarley, who was sacked from her job within 24 hours of an altercation with Frederick T. Joseph in a Boston park. Joseph claimed she had “racially assaulted” him and then campaigned successfully to get her “terminated” from her job.
Novelist Lionel Shriver has given an interview to Robin Ashenden in the Critic about the backlash she provoked as a result of defending the practice of ‘cultural appropriation’ by writers of fiction. She said: “The current cultural environment is making us all look frantically for our own ‘safe space’, where the lunatics will leave us alone. Desperation for safety doesn’t bring out the best in people. It brings out cowardice, suspicion, paranoia, excess caution, and an inclination to stay home and shelter in place.”
Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes says “we have to regain the ability to be disagreed with” because the current censorious climate makes the UK a “prescriptive society”.
A sightseeing guidebook funded by Transport for London has tried to cancel a plant! According to the guide, wisteria has “colonial roots” and it goes on to describe the gardening terms “native” and “invasive” as “offensive”, reports Craig Simpson in the Telegraph. Fraser Myers says that hysterical accusations of racism are now out of control. The Times also reported on the widespread ridicule TfL attracted as a result of its attack on racist plants.
The Scottish comedian Janey Godley says she was left suicidal following a Twitter backlash against her for using racist language. The comedian has apologised to the social media mob, saying she is ashamed of the language she used.
Spitting Image has suffered an online backlash after a sketch of Labour MP Jess Phillips “sexualised” her and depicted her as an “annoying feminist superhero”.
A short story by David Walliams has been removed from a collection published by HarperCollins because it contains a “harmful” stereotype of a Chinese person.
Patheos and Breitbart reported on the Charity Commission’s decision to uphold our complaint about the Purpose of Life charity, which doxxed the Batley Grammar School teacher. The charity has been issued with an official warning.
The artist Lars Vilks, who had to live with 24/7 police protection after painting Mohammed with the body of a dog, has died in a traffic collision. His two police bodyguards also died in the same incident. There is no suggestion that it was anything other than an accident.
The Tablet shared the news of our success in the case of Fr David Palmer, now serving as Catholic chaplain of Nottingham University after initially being blocked. We wrote to the University threatening legal action if he wasn’t officially recognised.
Nurse Mary Onuoha told an employment tribunal that she was “treated like a criminal” for wearing a small cross at work. She is pursuing a discrimination claim.
Professor Dorian Abbot, a geophysicist at the University of Chicago, was no-platformed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology earlier this week after an online mob pressured MIT to cancel his guest lecture on the grounds that he had argued for “academic freedom and merit-based evaluations” rather than “equality of outcomes”. Members will recall that the FSU started a petition last year asking the President of the University of Chicago to affirm Prof Abbot’s right to free speech when another online mob called for him to be demoted. The petition got almost 15,000 signatures and the Chicago President complied with our request a few days later.
The BBC has warned that Chinese proposals to “re-engineer the plumbing of the internet” would lead to increased censorship by authoritarian regimes – although it didn’t mention that the Conservative Government is planning to censor the internet with its forthcoming Online Safety Bill. You can read our briefing about that Bill here.
South Korea has delayed plans for a law prohibiting “fake news” after a backlash.
FSU at Battle of Ideas Festival tomorrow
The FSU will be out in force at this year’s Battle of Ideas Festival at Church House in Westminster this weekend. We’re hosting a session, chaired by our founder, called “The FSU Files: How to Fight ‘Cancel Culture’ and Win” in which we’ll hear from individuals who’ve experienced first-hand what it’s like to be cancelled. But these particular individuals also have something else in common: with our help, they’ve all fought back. We will hear from them about the most effective way to survive an online assassination attempt, as well as more general advice on how to persuade people that free speech is a cause worth defending.
Across the weekend there are numerous other sessions on free speech issues that should be of interest to FSU members, including “Hate, Heresy and the Fight for Free Speech”, “From GB News to Ben & Jerry’s: Boycotts or Censorship?”, “Publish and Be Damned?”, “The History Wars”, “The Social Justice March through the Institutions”, “Has Coronavirus Changed Us?” and “Can Culture Survive the Culture Wars?”
Most of our staff will be there encouraging others to join the FSU, so come and find us at our stall and say hello. You can buy tickets here. Members were sent a discount code in the monthly newsletter on Monday.
Forthcoming comedy nights
We are delighted to announce that we’ll be hosting two comedy nights in association with Comedy Unleashed, the home of free-thinking comedy. Join us in London on Wednesday 10th November and Wednesday 15th December, when the line-ups will include the brilliant Leo Kearse, Nick Dixon, Tania Edwards, Tony Law, Dominic Frisby, Mark Dolan, Vanity Von Glow and many more. The line-ups are different on each night, so feel free to come to both!
Booking details will be emailed to FSU members early next week. Tickets are sure to sell out, so join the FSU now, before it’s too late!
“Wokus Dei: The Cult That Conquered the West” with Professor Frank Furedi
Also exclusive to FSU members, join us on Monday 25th October for our fourth Online Speakeasy, when Toby will be in conversation with prolific author, sociologist and cultural commentator Professor Frank Furedi, exploring the ‘woke’ cult. How did it acquire such velocity in such a short time and capture so many of our most prestigious institutions? Booking details for “Wokus Dei: The Cult That Conquered the West” will be emailed soon to members. If you want to take part in this vitally important discussion, join the FSU today.
Sharing the Newsletter
You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below to help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.
If you know of someone who’s been penalised for exercising their lawful right to free speech, or been discouraged from doing so by a school, university or employer, please get in touch with our case team here.