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-crisis denialism

In an extensive analysis for Spiked, Frank Furedi explores the belief of many on “what passes for the left” that “the very real existence of a free-speech crisis is not only a fantasy, but a product of a right-wing, no doubt Tory conspiracy”. This “free-speech-crisis denialism” is underpinned by a wholesale rejection of free speech “as an inviolable moral good” and reaches its apotheosis with the view that free speech is opposed to life itself, which Furedi describes as “a form of moral blackmail”.

Noah Carl demolishes the same denialism in Quillette, albeit using more moderate language.

Misogyny

The government has accepted an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill that would require all the police forces in England and Wales to keep a record of those crimes that are motivated by hatred of the victim’s sex or gender – widely written up in the press as making misogyny a hate crime, although in reality it is a staging post on the road to that destination. The move is a concession to campaign groups seeking greater protection for women – a campaign given increased urgency by the killing of Sarah Everard. Spiked columnist Ella Whelan argues that women must refuse to live in fear, saying: “Making misogyny a hate crime writes into law that women cannot handle public life without the watchful eye of the state. This is not the politics of freedom; it is the politics of fear.”

Joanna Williams, founder of the think tank Cieo, questions the idea of relying on the perception of the victim to determine whether an assailant was motivated by hatred of your sex or gender, which is what the police will have to do, there being no objective test of whether a person was motivated by misogyny. It is important, she argues, to hear women’s “lived experiences of sexual harassment”, but the problem of using “entirely subjective responses to create apparently concrete data sets” should not be ignored. Williams says: “There is no formula for determining how many personal truths comprise a universal truth.”

The FSU tweeted on Thursday: “If last night’s amendment on ‘misogyny’ becomes law, it’ll be taken by police as instruction to record more ‘non-crime hate incidents’ against people’s names in police databases. Perception-based reporting has a chilling effect on free speech and should be scrapped, not expanded.”

NCHIs

“Policing tweets is so much easier than policing streets,” former police officer Harry Miller told Talk Radio this week. Miller’s legal challenge to the College of Policing’s practice of recording ‘non-crime hate incidents’ (NCHIs) at the Court of Appeal was heard last week, and he hopes for a judgement before Easter. He said: “If we win, the consequences are absolutely huge for the police and if we lose the consequences are huge to free speech.” FSU deputy director of research Emma Webb added that the monitoring and recording of NCHIs is “the mass surveillance of people’s opinions on controversial subjects by the police without this being mandated by Parliament”. You can read a report on NCHIs by Radomir Tylecote, the FSU’s research director, here.

The FSU is supporting Harry Miller’s appeal via its ‘Fighting Fund’ on GoFundMe. If he loses and the Court orders him to pay the College of Policing’s cost, he’ll be out of pocket big time. You can donate to the GoFundMe here. If Harry is successful, we’ll use the money to fight other free speech cases.

Universities

The National Catholic Register has published an article examining the difficulties faced by pro-life students on British university campuses. When president of Glasgow University’s Students for Life Grace Deignan first tried to set up a pro-life student group, she says, “We were told we couldn’t become a group on campus because the university didn’t take a stance on abortion. But after discovering there were already three pro-abortion societies active on campus, we knew we were being silenced.”

Julia Rynkiewicz, a midwifery student at the University of Nottingham, was suspended from her hospital placement when the University learned of her pro-life views. After a four-month investigation, her suspension was overturned, and she eventually got a financial settlement and an apology, but the ordeal set her back a year in her studies.

FSU General Secretary Toby Young is quoted in the article, saying: “The free-speech crisis at Britain’s universities is very real.” He pointed out that a survey commissioned in 2017 by the UCU, Britain’s largest academic trade union, found that free speech was less well protected in Britain’s universities than in every other EU member state bar one and since then “things have got worse by an order of magnitude”.

Raquel Rosario Sánchez, president of the University of Bristol’s feminist society has been removed from her post by the Students’ Union after a complaint was made by a trans student over the society’s refusal to admit trans women to women-only meetings about violence against women. The society, called Women Talk Back, has written an open letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson objecting to the decision. Ms Rosario Sánchez said: “Women have a right to single-sex spaces when we are talking about sensitive matters.”

An online conference called “Replatforming Deplatformed Women” held its first meeting this week at Cambridge University, featuring female speakers who have been disinvited from public engagements for alleged transphobia. The University was supportive, saying: “Rigorous debate is fundamental to the pursuit of academic excellence and the university will always be a place where freedom of speech is strongly encouraged.” (Tell that to Jordan Peterson, who was no-platformed by the University in 2019.)

Rule Britannia

Student Elizabeth Heverin was given a two-week ban by the Aberdeen University Students’ Association, preventing her from setting foot in the Association’s buildings, for saying “Rule Britannia” during a discussion about military recruitment on campus. The debate concerned the renewal of the students’ union’s commitment to a “demilitarised campus” because some students said “the presence of military personnel on campus would make them feel uncomfortable, due to links with colonialism and the British Empire”. Heverin, who disagreed with the policy, said: “It feels like I’ve been prosecuted for the crime of being patriotic”. Toby commented: “This is a misguided attempt to silence someone based on ignorant guesswork about their political values. Trying to silence people you suspect of harbouring unfashionable views through bans or by no-platforming them should have no place at a university.” The ban on military personnel on campus was eventually overturned.

Responding to the story in an interview with Nick Ferrari on Talk Radio, Calvin Robinson called it “bonkers” and urged people to “support free speech at all costs”.

The FSU has written to the President of the Students’ Association asking her to overturn the punishment, apologise to Elizabeth Heverin and assure other students that they won’t face the same fate if they utter the words “Rule Britannia”.

Cancelling musicians and writers

Writing in The Critic, Jack Stacey compares Winston Marshall from Mumford & Sons, now taking time away from the band to “examine my blind spots”, with Winston Smith, the central character of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. The banjo player’s recent apology for praising journalist Andy Ngo’s book on Antifa on Twitter amounts to a public declaration that he, like his Orwellian counterpart, finally loves “his Big Brothers and Sisters or, in genderqueer-friendly parlance, Siblings”.

Canadian editor of Quillette Jonathan Kay has written about the predicament of freelance journalist Jesse Singal, who has been the subject of “a malicious and wilfully dishonest propaganda campaign” accusing him of transphobia, sexual exploitation, “slut-shaming” and more, none of which have been backed by a scintilla of evidence. Kay observes that the main victims of cancel culture tend not to be conservatives but rather “heterodox liberals who simply offer a dissenting opinion”. Singal is “a liberal whose words are read by other liberals”, and it is his independent-minded deviations from woke orthodoxy, particularly on the subject of gender dysphoria in children, that make him the target of “those who view the issue of trans rights through the Manichean lens of blessed dogma and wicked heresy”. Their goal “is to excommunicate, silence, and demonetise one of the few journalists who’s actually researched the science that should guide our treatment of dysphoric children”.

Writers concerned about cancel culture could do worse than read “How to Survive Cancel Culture as a Writer” by Thomas Umstattd Jr. His advice includes: “don’t be a jerk”, “don’t apologize to trolls”, “pick your enemies”, “own your own platform”, and “stand your ground”.

Offence and division

The latest Charlie Hebdo cover, which features a cartoon of the Queen kneeling on Meghan Markle’s neck, has caused outrage and criticism for its obvious reference to the death of George Floyd (and its implication that the Queen is racist). But according to Spiked, the attacks on the magazine for making light of George Floyd’s killing are absurd: “Charlie does not discriminate when it comes to causing offence. Quite the opposite: it is an equal-opportunities blasphemer.”

FSU Director Douglas Murray made on appearance this week on the Telegraph’s podcast Planet Normal, discussing identity politics and the increasing divisions in society. He argues that progressive radicals are playing weird and dangerous games in the name of equality which will ultimately “provoke anger and angst and recognition of difference rather than an erasure of difference”.

In response to an increasing number of messages expressing concerns about cancel culture and critical race theory, American economist and podcaster Glenn Loury has set up an email address so people worried about the Maoist climate sweeping America can contact him: thework@glennshow.com. “Please do NOT use it if what you have is a general question, a suggestion for an interview, or a note of support,” he said. “Please DO use it to tell us about the ways the zeitgeist is manifesting itself at your place of employment; about the help you might need from us or other members of our community; about the ways you would want to see this initiative to evolve in; or about the contribution you would like to make yourself.”

Policing speech

Professor Andrew Tettenborn, a member of the FSU’s Legal Advisory Council, argues that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which passed its second reading this week, will not only give “police worryingly unlimited power to suppress public protests” but could also “criminalise almost any public speech online, in posters or for that matter in newspapers, if enough people are prepared to complain about it”. The implications of this are so horrific, he says, that any progress on free speech made by groups such as the FSU could be rolled back all at once by “this catch-all provision apt to catch any speech where a pressure group can whip up enough of its supporters to say they are seriously distressed by it”.

Titania McGrath Snapped Up by GB News

Andrew Doyle, the pro-free speech campaigner and comic genius behind the Twitter character Titania McGrath, has been hired by GB News to be the channel’s wokeness correspondent, monitoring the excesses of woke culture. As a member of the FSU’s Advisory Council, Andrew is the second FSU figure to be snapped up by the new channel, the first being founding director Inaya Folarin Iman. Should it change its name to FSU News? The new channel – which is shaping up to be a refreshing alternative to the BBC News Channel and Sky News – is due to launch later this year.

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Kind regards,

Andrew Mahon