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.
Britain’s “wokest” school downgraded for silencing dissenting pupils
Previously dubbed the wokest school in Britain, the American School in London has been downgraded following an Ofsted inspection which found that pupils feel unable to “express their views freely in class”. Inspectors said “alternative views are not felt welcome”, and that the school places more emphasis on teaching “social justice” than “subject-specific knowledge”. Our founder Toby Young spoke to talkRADIO’s Mike Graham about the case. A student wrote for the New York Times about having to self-censor during seminar discussions.
Children’s author Simon James Green has been banned from appearing at a Catholic state secondary school. Green writes LGBTQ+ teen fiction, and had been invited to speak to pupils at the John Fisher School for World Book Day. The Archdiocese of Southwark recommended against the visit, but the school’s senior leadership team and governing body both decided to go ahead with the talk. The Archdiocese then cancelled the event and removed several governors. A second event featuring Green at a primary school, also under the auspices of the Archdiocese, was also cancelled.
Don’t ban RT, urges free speech author
Jacob Mchangama has written that banning the Russian state television channel RT is a Soviet-style tactic which should be rejected. He wrote in UnHerd that “free speech and access to information is a competitive advantage, not a disability, when it comes to fighting information wars against the Kremlin”. Writing in the Spectator, Nick Cohen said the channel is collapsing anyway, even without a ban. You can hear Jacob speak at our event next week.
New Iron Curtain as censorship tightened in Russia
Russian broadcaster Denis Kataev wrote in the Guardian about the closure of Dozhd, the last independent channel on Russian TV. Facebook has criticised Russia’s ban on its platform. The BBC reported that Twitter has also been “restricted”. TikTok has limited its services in Russia, and Netflix has withdrawn entirely.
Meanwhile, United Nations staff have been told not to refer to Putin’s assault on Ukraine as a “war” or “invasion” in order to be “impartial”. A UN spokesman later said the advice was not “official policy”.
Cats, concerts, and pianists cancelled in campaign against Russian culture
The Cardiff Philharmonic has removed Tchaikovsky from its programme, stating that performing the composer’s music would be “inappropriate”. A 20-year-old Russian piano prodigy has had performances in Canada cancelled, despite having publicly opposed Putin’s war on Ukraine. The Montreal Symphony Orchestra said the political situation made the performances “impossible”.
Russian artists are not the enemy, said Tom Slater. He wrote in Spiked that McCarthyite “knee-jerk censorship” is taking hold. Even the International Cat Federation has censured Russians. Kat Rosenfield compared the current climate to the misdirected attacks on Muslims and Sikhs following the attack on the World Trade Centre.
Female Police Commissioner censured by male panel for discussing women’s rights in trans debate
We have offered our support to Lisa Townsend, the Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner who has been reprimanded by a panel after complaints because she spoke out about women’s spaces. Lisa retweeted JK Rowling and defended the right of women to voice their concerns about “gender self-identification”. Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on LGBT+ rights, complained about this, as did two other men. The verdict, from a majority male panel, came on International Women’s Day.
The publishing purity spiral
Children’s author Gillian Philip wrote for the Daily Mail about being dropped by her publisher. The golden age of creative freedom seems to be at an end, she said:
Our freedom to think expansively and creatively, even to express our own views, is being undermined as surely as it would be in a totalitarian state. Books are literally being pulped if their authors refuse to toe the line. It is as if the Communist Red Guard has taken over.
We’ve been supporting her. Meanwhile, the University of the Highlands and Islands has given a trigger warning to students reading The Old Man and the Sea because it contains “graphic fishing scenes”.
Sam Leith wrote in UnHerd about the lucrative business of being an “antiracism” consultant. Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, reportedly charges £10,000 per speech, while Dr Ibram X. Kendi, who says “you can’t truly be antiracist if you’re not being anti-capitalist”, charges £15,000 per hour. Leith said boilerplate “antiracist” slogans are being “folded into the numbing cliches of the business self-help manual”.
Tech and online “safety”
Our opposition to the Online Safety Bill was noted by Juliet Samuel in the Telegraph. She wrote of the legislation: “Once created in law, this category of ‘harmful’ content won’t ever be abolished and, like ‘non-crime hate incidents’, will become a legal grey zone, where censorship is implicitly encouraged.”
Paul Thacker wrote in UnHerd about censorship of the lab leak theory.
Trump’s new free speech social media platform has had a rocky start, according to the Times.
Scotland’s gender wars
Several Labour politicians refused to define the meaning of “woman” (on International Women’s Day), prompting JK Rowling to suggest that the Shadow Secretary for Women and Equalities Anneliese Dodds needs both a “dictionary and a backbone”. Yvette Cooper likewise refused to answer the question. Labour MP Wes Streeting, a former leader of Stonewall, urged politicians to build bridges in the trans debate.
Writer and former New Statesman journalist Laurie Penny was told by Rowling that she should consider “find[ing] a job where dishing it out, but not being able to take it, is a key requirement”, after Penny claimed to be suffering from PTSD after getting a series of negative book reviews. Julie Burchill, commenting on the feud, mentioned that she herself had been “suspended from Twitter after saying that unarmed Ukrainians facing down Russian tanks are braver than men who dress up as women”.
Discussions about trans issues could be criminalised if the Hate Crime and Public Order Act comes into force, warned Lois McLatchie in the Times. Sarah Ditum wrote in UnHerd about the rigorous policing of language by trans activists and the “taboo” questions at the heart of trans ideology. A second Green Party member is suing the party over its transgender policy. Lisa Keogh spoke to Julia Hartley-Brewer of our Advisory Council about the latest debate surrounding Scotland’s proposed Gender Recognition Bill.
Baroness Kennedy has called on the Scottish Government to make misogyny a hate crime with new legislation to “create an offence of stirring up hatred against women and girls”. The UK Government has rejected similar proposals.
Piers Morgan Uncensored
Piers Morgan has announced his new show on TalkTV will be called Piers Morgan Uncensored. He’ll be opposing cancel culture and promoting freedom of expression on the soon-to-be launched rival to GB News.
Kathleen Stock wrote about the EDI missionaries colonising workplaces.
Tomiwa Owolade wrote for UnHerd that the culture wars are here to stay.
New Zealand is the wokest country in the world, argued Patrick Whittle in Spiked, not least because of the case of the scientists under investigation by the New Zealand Royal Society for having questioned the promotion of indigenous “ways of knowing” in science lessons. Those scientists are being helped by our sister organisation in New Zealand.
Battle of Ideas
FSU members in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland might be interested in a Battle of Ideas event being held in Belfast on Saturday, 26 March as part of the Imagine Belfast Festival. The day will include three panel discussions: ‘The Dangers of Online Safety’, ‘Can Culture Survive The Culture Wars?’, and ‘Snowflakes or Revolutionaries? Free Speech on Campus’.
Final chance to book: free speech from Socrates to social media
Join us in London for a live public lecture, discussion, and book launch on Thursday, 17 March with Jacob Mchangama, who will talk about 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.
Following a short lecture, Jacob will be joined in conversation by Dr Joanna Williams, writer and director of the think tank Cieo, and our general secretary Toby Young. 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 using this link or the promo code FSUmember. Founder Members should email firstname.lastname@example.org if they would like a complimentary ticket.
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