Welcome to the Free Speech Union’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week.
Rosie Kay forced out of her own company for lawful views expressed in her own home
We’re supporting Free Speech Union member Rosie Kay, a choreographer who has been forced out of the dance company she founded because she said – while at a dinner party in her own home – that biological sex is binary and immutable.
Incredibly, several of her guests lodged a formal complaint of “transphobia” with the trustees of the company she had set up and Rosie was placed under investigation for four months.
She was interviewed by Janice Turner in the Times about the ordeal yesterday. We are now helping Rosie raise funds to fight a legal battle and we urge you to donate to her fundraiser here. Every little helps.
Liberal professor under investigation for calling student walkout over Rod Liddle speech “pathetic”
Professor Tim Luckhurst, Principal of South College at the University of Durham, is being subjected to an investigation by university authorities about events surrounding a speech given by Spectator columnist Rod Liddle on the theme of tolerating other people’s points of view. A small number of students walked-out of the event, at which point Professor Luckhurst called the walk-out “pathetic”. He was not directing his comments at individual students, just expressing his view that walking out rather than staying to listen to opinions you find disagreeable – and forgoing an opportunity to debate with the speaker – was “pathetic”.
A chorus of student complaints about how “hurt” they were by Rod’s words – even though they hadn’t stayed to hear them – prompted the university to launch a formal investigation into Professor Luckhurst and bar him from engaging with students, including a planned talk in favour of free speech at the Durham Union on Monday. He is a member of the Free Speech Union and we are supporting him in full. Our full statement on events in Durham was printed in the Daily Mail:
The vilification and abuse of Professor Luckhurst for inviting Rod Liddle to give an after-dinner speech is an absolute disgrace.
If students cannot cope with hearing opinions they find disagreeable they shouldn’t be at university.
Durham says it believes in upholding academic free speech, but if so why has it placed Professor Luckhurst under investigation for describing the decision of students to walk out of the speech as “pathetic”?
In expressing that perfectly lawful view, Professor Luckhurst was exercising his right to free speech and penalising him for doing so could well be a breach of the law that requires universities to uphold free speech on campus.
The Durham UCU branch called for the University “to consider the full range of appropriate disciplinary action”. Its statement also said Professor Luckhurst had not “addressed the behaviour of his wife”, who was filmed remonstrating with students after Liddle’s speech, one of whom had called her a “bitch”.
In the furore following the talk, the presidents of Durham student associations called for “content warnings” ahead of future guest lectures and hundreds of students protested and gave speeches demanding Luckhurst’s resignation. The Times said that Durham should not “indulge the sensitivities of student protesters”.
But Imogen Marchant, a current Durham student, wrote in the Spectator:
As a Durham finalist, I’m fed up. The university has released more communication about Rod-gate in the last three days than I have received all term about what is going to happen with my exams. My college, my department and the university governing body have all sent me emails telling me about the appropriate welfare resources to turn to if I have been unduly affected by hearing about comments that I might disagree with. The university has been quick to affirm that it “categorically does not agree with views expressed by the external speaker at this occasion”. This is precisely my worry: since when has inviting someone to speak been a sign that you agree with everything they’ve ever said? After all, by giving someone a microphone, it should be clear that you are not irrevocably aligning your institution with them. Who would think otherwise?
Michael Deacon said if students can’t handle Rod Liddle’s jokes they aren’t ready for the real world.
The behaviour of the UCU, a trade union which is supposed to stand up for the rights of university employees against their employers, is yet more evidence that it won’t support academics who express unorthodox views. If you fall into that category, please consider joining the FSU instead. We currently have a special offer whereby academics can get a £10 discount on their first year’s membership. More details below.
Cambridge students launch witch-hunt to find source of woke “training” leak
The Wolfson College Student Association (WCSA) has launched a witch-hunt after several students leaked images of compulsory “anti-racism” training to the Telegraph. The mandatory training included the usual woke gobbledegook – Britain is a cesspit of ‘white supremacy’, ‘microaggressions’ should be reported to the university authorities, heteronormative students need to do ‘the work’ to become ‘allies’ of trans students, etc., etc. The Telegraph has more. The president of the WCSA said the leakers wanted “to sow division, uncertainty, and distrust amongst their peers” and that it was “frankly cowardly” to defy the Association.
Our founder Toby Young was quoted on the search for heretics in Wolfson: “The college authorities should be embarrassed. They’ve relinquished their leadership role and the result is that a student mob is now in charge. Why would anyone want to go to Wolfson if the college is now run by a group of Maoist thugs in short trousers?”
The recent appearance of Jordan Peterson at Cambridge is one promising sign that academic freedom can be restored.
Meanwhile, Professor Jo Phoenix has resigned from the Open University after being “harassed and vilified” by her colleagues over her gender critical views. She said: “The University has allowed things to escalate to a point beyond repair. My trust and heart have been broken.”
Law Commission proposals on hate crime
The Law Commission has proposed that England and Wales needs its own Hate Crime Bill, much like the one that free speech groups campaigned against in Scotland. Some of the proposals from the Commission were welcomed, but we think they’d be an unprecedented assault on free speech. Toby wrote in the Spectator:
At present, in order to be prosecuted for stirring up hatred against a ‘protected’ group, the Crown needs to prove you intended to do so, with the exception of stirring up racial hatred, where the threshold is lower. The Commission not only proposes to enlarge the number of ‘protected’ groups to include ‘sex and gender’, ‘disability’ and ‘trans-gender and gender identity’, but wants the lower prosecution threshold to be extended to all stirring-up offences.
Consequently, you could be sent to jail for using threatening or abusive words that are ‘likely to’ stir up hatred against women and minorities — look out Roy Chubby Brown — even if you didn’t intend to do so. All the Crown would need to show is that you ‘ought to have known’. The Scottish government initially intended to make the same change, but was forced to climb down. The fact that the Law Commission wants to venture into territory where even Nicola Sturgeon fears to tread is alarming.
The Commission recommended the criminalisation of “public sexual harassment” like cat-calling or lewd comments, the Telegraph reported, while rejecting calls for misogyny to be made a hate crime.
The Economist called Scotland’s new Hate Crime Act, which the Law Commission wants to replicate in England and Wales and which we campaigned against, the “latest example of growing authoritarianism”.
The Muslim Council of Britain has issued a report on “Islamophobia” calling for greater restrictions on the reporting of Islamist terrorism. It singles out for criticism a report in the Daily Mail which quoted a Yazidi survivor of ISIS who said: “They called it Islamic law. They raped women, even young girls.” The Muslim Council of Britain said that report risked “perpetuating falsehoods about Islam”. Brendan O’Neill said the report was a “chilling attempt to crush public criticism of Islam”.
Ceri Black is being prosecuted in Northern Ireland for Twitter threads she wrote about child sexual abuse after a complaint from David Paisley, the actor and “LGBTQAI+ activist”. She accused him of “boundary blurring interventions” in the debate about the Wii Spa incident, where, as Black explained, “A male, who turned out to have a history of sex offences, went into the women’s changing room and exposed his penis to women and girls. A woman complained about him; she was subsequently vilified on social media, called a transphobe and a bigot.”
Mia Ashton, a British feminist living in Canada, said in the Critic that a proposed amendment to the country’s Human Rights Code will have disastrous consequences on the free speech of gender critical feminists.
Sceptic doctor triumphs in High Court case
Dr Sam White has won his case at the High Court against a social media ban imposed on him by the General Medical Council after he’d posted videos doubting the efficacy of vaccines and arguing that mask-wearing was not effective.
Ban on conversion therapy could criminalise counsellors of trans children
The Government has extended the consultation on the criminalisation of ‘conversion therapy’, which many have warned will make it illegal to refer children who present as gender dysphoric to a psychiatrist. Both Janice Turner in the Times and Nikki Da Costa in the Telegraph warned against rushing out legislation in this complicated area. Tom Chivers, writing for UnHerd, argued that stifling conversations around gender identity and counselling for children who self-identify as trans will only cause harm. Many parents fear that they could be prosecuted for discussing their own child’s desire to change sex. Church leaders have warned that an overly-broad ban on conversion therapy would risk criminalising Christian teaching.
Trans ideology continues to dominate public sector
Hundreds of nurses have called on the Nursing and Midwifery Council to withdraw from Stonewall’s ailing Diversity Champions scheme. One nurse said: “I feel I am unable to protect my female/women patients, and advocate for them without fear of recrimination.”
James Kirkup accused the BBC of failing to recognise the contentiousness of trans ideology after the corporation included two trans women on its annual 100 Women list. Raquel Rosario Sanchez said the BBC’s recent Womanhood documentary presented “trans dogmas as truth and biology as lies”.
Meanwhile civil servants are being made to sit through training courses described as “unscientific nonsense”. One course featured a “genderbread person” that described biological sex as a “spectrum”.
MPs could be banned from making “unreasonable” attacks
Professor Andrew Tettenborn of our Legal Advisory Council has warned about the House of Commons’ Committee on Standards’ proposals for banning MPs from mounting any “unreasonable and excessive personal attack” and obliging them to promote “anti-racism”. These proposals are currently being consulted about and if you would like to respond you can do so here. We will be responding shortly.
Judge-written privacy law will encroach on free speech
Geoffrey Robertson QC has warned in the Mail on Sunday that Meghan Markle’s recent Court of Appeals victory risks judge-made privacy law that shields the rich and powerful from criticism. The Times warned of the same in an editorial.
Headteacher: young people care about social justice but hate cancel culture
Vicky Bingham of South Hampstead High School has said most young people hate cancel culture and see it as “performative, virtue-signalling and frightening” and would rather concentrate on “meaningful action than on grand sweeping statements or policy of language”.
Hugo Rifkind wrote that cancel culture was out of control, and argued that it comes from the right as well as the left. (Well done Hugo. The penny finally dropped.)
The Colston school in Bristol has renamed itself in the wake of the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue last year.
Mispronouncing a name isn’t a “microaggression”
Patrick West wrote in the Spectator about the minefield of mispronouncing foreign names, a difficulty he said is ubiquitous across cultures and far from malicious.
Broadcasters drop “BAME”
The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are to “move away” from the term BAME. A diversity report found that many people considered it insulting and that white journalists were “nervous” about what language to use.
EU condemned for attempt to police language
The Pope and President Macron have both condemned the European Union’s attempt to police language, including advising people to avoid saying “Christmas”.
Surviving the trans publishing purges
“While JK Rowling might be too famous to cancel, those with heterodox views in the foothills of literary fame have two choices: keep quiet or leave,” wrote Josephine Bartosch on the “trans publishing purges”. Writer Rose Tremain told the Times that writing now “is like walking through a forest with mantraps”. Meanwhile, woke children’s books have colonised book shops.
Shakespeare has survived worse than the trigger warnings which bedevil modern productions, wrote Jane Shilling in the Telegraph.
Forthcoming comedy night
Following the success of our first comedy night of 2021, we are offering members priority booking for our second, taking place on Wednesday 15 December – perfect timing for a pre-Christmas celebration of free-thinking comedy. And fear not – the new Covid restrictions announced on Wednesday won’t affect this event.
Our MC for the evening will be FSU favourite Dominic Frisby, and he’ll be joined by comedians Leo Kearse, Mark Dolan and Joe Jacobs. Bringing some additional seasonal glamour, we have a special performance by Vanity von Glow.
The Free Speech Union team will also be there, so do come and say hello. Round up your friends and family and buy your tickets now!
If you’re feeling especially full of Christmas cheer, please consider selecting the option of a ticket plus a £10 donation to the FSU.
Sharing the newsletter
As with all 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.
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.
A reminder: if you’re a working academic and haven’t yet joined the Free Speech Union, or if you know somebody who should, we’ve put a special offer in place whereby if you join you can claim a £10 rebate. To be eligible, you need to join for the full annual amount of £49.95 and select “Academic” in the dropdown menu asking what profession you’re in. Offer ends on 20 December.