Weekly News Round-Up

Welcome to the Free Speech Union’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. 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.

Book now! Free speech – from Socrates to social media

Join us in London for a live public lecture, discussion, and book launch on Thursday, 17 March as Jacob Mchangama introduces his new book, Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media. Jacob is an author and lawyer, and the founder and director of Justitia, a Copenhagen-based think tank focusing on human rights, freedom of speech, and the rule of law. Jacob has written a widely lauded article published this week in Foreign Affairs on the global rise of censorship. In it he concluded: “Free speech is still an experiment, and in the digital age, no one can guarantee the outcome of providing global platforms to billions of people. But the experiment is noble – and worth continuing.”

Following a short lecture, Jacob will be joined in conversation by Dr Joanna Williams, writer and director of the think tank Cieo, and Toby Young, general secretary of the FSU. The discussion will be chaired by Claire Fox, director of the Academy of Ideas.

There will then be a wine reception, hosted by Basic Books. Tickets are £10/£5, with special rates for FSU Members who either use this link or enter the promo code FSUmember. 

Please book early, as we anticipate selling out. Founder Members should email [email protected] if they would like a complimentary ticket.

Brighton’s racial guilt lessons could amount to harassment

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has intervened over Brighton Council’s critical race theory training programme for teachers. Quoted in the Telegraph, our Chief Legal Counsel Bryn Harris said that teaching children that they are not “racially innocent” could easily “tip over into harassment of individual pupils”. He said that “the fact they’re being browbeaten and told how awful they are is likely to have an impact on [white] students. Certainly we’re seeing parents saying their kids are exhausted, defeated, depressed [over activist teaching on racism].” Writing in Spiked, Joanna Williams said critical race theory has no place being taught as fact in the classroom.

Welbeck Primary School in Nottingham has been criticised by parents for making pupils write letters to their MP criticising Boris Johnson. Professor Frank Furedi, writing in the Mail, said pupils should be taught to think critically, not indoctrinated by activist teachers.

Emily Schroeder, a former trainee teacher, wrote for the Critic about her decision to quit the training programme after encountering widespread indoctrination and woke ideology being forced on trainees, and then on students in schools. “I think of one assignment in particular, which marked the trainee teacher on how well [they] championed transgenderism in [their] classrooms”, she wrote.

The Free Speech Union at two

This month marks two years since the FSU was founded (more on that to follow in our monthly newsletter). Toby was interviewed by Peter Whittle of the New Culture Forum about our first two years, and he also spoke to Nigel Farage on the Talking Pints section of his 7pm GB News show.

New law to gag Jimmy Carr as Government condemns comedian

The campaign to cancel comedian Jimmy Carr continued this week, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid branding Carr’s Holocaust joke “horrid”. He urged viewers to “show these platforms what they think about Jimmy Carr by not watching or listening to him” which he said “will send him a very strong message”. Downing Street called the joke “deeply disturbing”. A Number 10 spokesman said it was “unacceptable to make light of genocide” and that the Government would be “toughening measures for social media and streaming platforms who don’t tackle harmful content”. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries suggested new legislation could criminalise airing jokes like Carr’s, which would see platforms such as Netflix held “to account”. One SNP councillor even said the audience should be prosecuted for laughing at his jokes.

Suzanne Moore said no politician should be in the business of telling voters what they can laugh at: “The outrage around Carr’s material is disingenuous. He was once a tax avoider who has made all kinds of offensive jokes for years – if you don’t like him then don’t pay money to go and see him.”

Various “anti-hate” groups have condemned the comedian, the Guardian reported. Reality TV star Paddy Doherty called for a police investigation, and David Baddiel said the joke was racist. On the other hand, Traveller Michael Marshall told Good Morning Britain Carr should apologise but not be persecuted.

The Evening Standard reported that yet another Holocaust joke from Carr had “emerged”, printed in his 2021 book Before and Laughter: The Funniest Man in the UK’s Genuinely Useful Guide to Life (which you can buy here). The book defended the right of comedians to make jokes about the Holocaust.

Professor Andrew Tettenborn of our Legal Advisory Council spoke to talkRADIO about the furore, a backlash which Leo Kearse said was mad and would only encourage self-censorship. “No one made you” watch Carr, wrote Sam Holmes in the Spectator. The Times asked if it would be the end of Carr’s career. Carr himself said the response to the joke showed that comedy is dying. He told an audience at a recent show:

What I am saying on stage this evening is barely acceptable now. In ten years forget about it. You are going to be able to tell your grandchildren about seeing this show tonight. You will say, “I saw a man and he stood on a stage and he made light of serious issues. We used to call them jokes and people would laugh.”

Following the conviction of Joseph Kelly for an offensive tweet about Captain Sir Tom Moore, Joanna Williams warned that the Online Safety Bill would weaponise the taking of offence. Barrister Adam King said: “All manner of commonplace statements are now liable to cause gross offence to those to whom they relate – yet be completely unobjectionable to almost everybody else.” Sending a “knowingly false” message will become a criminal offence under new proposals for the Online Safety Bill.

Sarah Phillimore, who recently succeeded in having a “non-crime hate incident” (NCHI) removed from her record, wrote in the Critic about how the police might adapt their behaviour following the Miller ruling that the College of Policing’s approach to NCHIs was unlawful.

Joshua Rozenberg wrote for the Critic about hate crime proposals and responses to the Law Commission’s recent consultation. You can read our response to that consultation here.

Bristol staff accused of trying to trick feminist student into being deported

PhD student Raquel Rosario-Sánchez was in court this week suing Bristol University over the bullying from transgender activists which had targeted her during her time there. She has alleged that staff colluded with each other in an attempt to trick her into suspending her studies so she’d be forced out of the country when her visa expired.

Meanwhile, Bristol has been ridiculed for a pronoun guide which includes tips on how to address students who identify as cats. “Someone who is catgender may use nya/nyan pronouns,” says a website that the guidance links out to. We were quoted in the Express on the story after we offered to defend any FSU member penalised for refusing to follow these new rules. Richard Littlejohn said militant trans rights activists are “determined to push the boundaries beyond reasonable limits and demonise anyone who dares to dissent”. Colin Wright argued in the Wall St Journal that the apparently “innocuous” question “What are your pronouns?” is really a demand for conformity with transgender ideology, and if you don’t subscribe to that ideology then you simply shouldn’t answer.

Joanna Cherry MP will be representing our member Lisa Keogh in her case against Abertay University. You can donate to Lisa’s crowdfunder here.

We have written to Professor Martin Jones, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Staffordshire University, in defence of our member Professor James Treadwell, a criminologist. He has been placed under investigation by the University after he engaged in the debate over gender self-identification and the risk it poses to female inmates in women’s prisons.

The governing body of Gonville and Caius has voted against flying the Pride flag over the college, arguing that it’s a contested political symbol. However, students will be free to display flags, banners, and posters from their rooms for the first time, the Times reported.

Adele was labelled a “TERF” (“trans-exclusionary radical feminist”) after saying she loved being a woman at the gender-neutral Brit Awards.

Trans activists are editing the Wikipedia pages of their opponents, citing Pink News reports and removing attempts to balance articles, wrote Debbie Hayton in UnHerd.

Trigger warnings

Great art is supposed to be “triggering”, wrote Ella Whelan, as the rise of trigger warnings threatens artistic freedom. Colin Brazier lambasted Royal Holloway for applying a trigger warning to Oliver Twist.

“Decolonisation” drive sees traditional specialisms abandoned

Specialisms and whole subjects risk being lost as universities rush to “decolonise” and put identity politics front and centre in their curricula, wrote Dr Chris Newton in the Telegraph. “The underrepresentation of war and strategic studies is an observation that political and military scholars have been making for decades. In the US, a country where we have good data, studies have shown a considerable increase in the proportion of cultural and gender historians. Meanwhile, the share of military historians, at least up to 2015, remained between 2-3 per cent.”

Joe Rogan apologises as Spotify tosses 100+ podcast episodes down the memory hole

Joe Rogan has apologised for his past use of racist language after a video compilation of him using the N-word circulated online. Rogan pointed out that many of the clips had been taken out of context. Rogan is no racist, argued our founding director Inaya Folarin Iman in Spiked. Adam Coleman wrote in UnHerd:

The outrage over Rogan isn’t coming from black people. It’s coming from members of the political and media establishment who have been trying to deplatform him for over a month. When warnings about “misinformation” didn’t do the trick, they pivoted to racism. But this isn’t about racism or even morality; it’s about control of information.

Spotify has quietly removed over 100 episodes from his back catalogue. Trump said Rogan should “stop apologising”. The podcaster has reportedly been offered $100 million to move to Rumble, a platform linked to Trump.

Damian Reilly said the real reason progressive culture warriors wanted to take down Rogan was his popularity with men. Tom Slater argued in Spiked that the campaign was driven by elite fear that “someone, somewhere, may be thinking for themselves”.

Other news

Channel 4 has been told to explain its use of gagging orders against staff.

Campaigners against Edward Colston are now calling for a boycott of Thatchers Cider, on the grounds that its director joined the Society of the Merchant Venturers, which the Countering Colston pressure group said “has deep roots in the historical slave trade in Bristol”.

GoFundMe blocks donations to Canadian trucking convoy

GoFundMe has blocked donations to the Canadian Covid truck protesters, a decision described by Jordan Peterson as the “worst act of corruption” in Canada’s recent history. Brendan O’Neill said it was a classist attack on democracy. Free speech has been one of the chief casualties of the pandemic, argued Alexander Adams.

Book banning in America

Our US affiliate has warned of the dangers of the American Civil Liberties Union retreating from its once “unqualified defence of free speech”. Benjamin Schwarz and Jon Zobenica of the Free Speech Union US pointed to the ACLU’s case selection criteria, which require the ACLU to balance its commitment to freedom of speech with its pursuit of equality. The organisation once famously defended even the right of Nazis to hold a rally in a heavily Jewish Chicago suburb, Schwarz and Zobenica said.

Students are beginning to organise against book banning in US schools. A Tennessee pastor led a book burning of supposedly “demonic” texts, including the Harry Potter and Twilight series.

Nick Tyrone lambasted the caution of the modern publishing industry.

Last chance: apply now

If you’d like to get involved in our work, we still have three new posts available. Join our communications team as our Director of Digital Content and Marketing, or as our Communications Officer. We’re also seeking a Director of Data and Impact to help expand our membership base. Applications will be closing soon.

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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.

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Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones


Case Officer