Weekly news round-up

Welcome to the FSU’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.

FSU supporters catapult free speech to top of the agenda in Tory leadership race

The FSU’s new campaigning tool has been used by over 1,000 of our supporters to email the Tory leadership candidates urging them to adopt our Free Speech Manifesto. According to the FSU’s independent opinion polling, only two per cent of the public strongly agree that the Government is doing a good job of standing up for free speech, so it’s not surprising that candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have been paying attention. The FSU Manifesto outlines five policy commitments for the next Prime Minister that would protect free speech in the UK, and campaigning by FSU supporters has clearly helped to put free speech at the top of the agenda in the leadership race.

This week Liz Truss vowed to strengthen the free speech protections in the Online Safety Bill, criticising the provisions designed to protect adults from speech deemed ‘legal but harmful’. Sunak has also pledged to have another look at this. Truss said on GB News this week that she “strongly agreed” that adults must be allowed to say online what they can say offline, emphasising that protecting children online should not come at the expense of free speech

The FSU is delighted to see the leadership candidates addressing concerns about the Online Safety Bill, but we are looking for similar commitments in relation to the other issues in our Free Speech Manifesto. We want to see stronger protections for workers’ speech rights, the scrapping of the Orwellian ‘non-crime hate incidents’, an end to political indoctrination in schools and an amendment to the Equality Act 2010 to prevent its abuse by universities seeking to no-platform heterodox speakers. 

If you’re a Conservative Party member and you haven’t already done so, please use our new campaigning tool to send the candidates an email. If you’ve sent them an email, remember that the template can be tweaked to accommodate whatever free speech issues you’d now like to raise with Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. And if you’re not a member the Conservative Party, please use our other tool to send your MP an email about the shortcomings of the Online Safety Bill. In both cases, it only takes a couple of minutes to send an email and there’s no doubt this campaigning is having an impact.

Gillian Philip fights for freedom of expression in publishing

FSU supporters may remember the case of Gillian Philip. Gillian is the author who brought an Employment Tribunal claim against her former publishers, Working Partners and HarperCollins, on the grounds that they terminated her contract to write children’s books because she stood up for JK Rowling on Twitter. She alleges unlawful discrimination and the case is a landmark in the fight for a woman’s right to state biological facts without fear of losing her job. Gender critical writers such as Kate Clanchy, Julie Burchill and Jenny Lindsay have all faced threats to their livelihood as a result of expressing gender critical views. 

But the case has important repercussions beyond the gender debate. Thanks to the exceptional generosity of FSU supporters who donated to our previous CrowdJustice campaign, Gillian was able to bring her case to a preliminary hearing earlier this year. Despite top-drawer representation from Shah Qureshi of Irwin Mitchell solicitors and barrister David Mitchell, the preliminary hearing found that Gillian did not have rights under the Equality Act 2010 because she was employed as a ‘contract writer’ rather than as an ‘employee’ of Working Partners.

Whether contract writers are ‘workers’ is an important question of law. Without such status, writers do not benefit from employment legislation preventing unfair dismissal or the protections of the Equality Act against unlawful discrimination. Maya Forstater’s case established that gender critical beliefs are protected under the Equality Act, but this judgement is rendered meaningless if workers can simply be described as ‘contractors’ and deprived of its protections. Unscrupulous employers are being empowered to side-step employment protections: by designating freelancers as ‘independent’ they have the power to silence writers and other precariously employed people.

It is therefore vital that we support Gillian as she appeals her case and defends her right to freedom of speech and the protections of employment law. The outbreak of creativity crushing close-mindedness in the publishing industry must be challenged and the legal rights of thousands of precariously employed people who make their living through creative expression must be defended. It is in everyone’s interests that authors like Gillian, who entertain and inspire us, enjoy the legal protections they need to express themselves freely and securely.

Once again, we need your help. This appeal could be of ground-breaking importance for the publishing industry, determining not only the freedom of speech of contract writers, but also pay and conditions. Please join the fight and support Gillian’s crowd funder here.

FSU General Secretary Toby Young speaks to the Christian Institute about free speech and the ‘woke church’

This week, the FSU’s General Secretary Toby Young was interviewed as part of The Christian Institute’s ‘In Conversation With’ series. The FSU has done considerable work to defend the speech rights of Christians, including writing to the Provost of Worcester College earlier this year after he acquiesced to vexatious student complaints and black-listed Christian Concern, preventing the organisation booking rooms at the College. An independent investigation by a charity lawyer found no evidence to support the student’s allegations of “aggressive leafleting” by attendees at last year’s summer school. In conversation with The Christian Institute’s Simon Calvert, Toby said:

We’ve embraced this new secular public morality, which is… much more puritanical and censorious and authoritarian than the seemingly much more gentle Christian public morality, which at least allowed for forgiveness and a path back.

Watch the interview here.

Victory for free speech in Scotland

The FSU’s Scottish branch welcomes the revised Defamation and Malicious Publication (Scotland) Act 2021 which came into force this week, a significant victory for freedom of speech in Scotland. The Act closes loopholes in the former legislation that were having a chilling effect on the free speech of journalists, publishers and others. Authors including Chris Brookmyre have previously reported pressure to tone down satirical characters that could be linked to real life individuals for fear that they might trigger a defamation suit under Scottish law.

Under the new Act, defamation claims can only be launched if the speech being complained of caused ‘serious harm’ to the plaintiff’s reputation, enabling courts to quickly dispose of vexatious and frivolous cases. A company pursuing a defamation case must prove ‘serious financial loss’. The length of time given to litigants to launch court proceedings has been reduced from three years to 12 months and social media users who could previously find themselves subject to a defamation case for sharing defamatory content on social media can no longer be targeted by defamation proceedings. The original author, editor or publisher must be held liable. Most importantly, the defence of truth or ‘honest opinion’ is joined by a new ‘public interest’ defence that protects the right of journalists to report what can be shown to be substantially true in order to inform the general public.

The FSU’s Scottish branch welcomes the amended Act and fully endorses the views of Andrew Tickell, senior law lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University, when he said in the Times that:

The law of defamation should be about the legitimate protection of reputation against falsehood, not a tool to stop the truth coming out. This new act shifts the balance in favour of free expression.

FSU Online In-Depth: Free speech in schools

Our schedule of online and in-person events for September to December kicks off on 13th September with an Online In-Depth. A panel of experts and campaigners will be discussing how and why free speech issues are coming up more and more often in primary and secondary schools. Unlike our usual online events, this one will be open to anyone who is interested in this issue, so please feel free to share the details. You can register here to receive the Zoom link.

Universities ban books to keep students ‘safe’

A Times investigation has revealed that 10 universities, including Russell Group members Warwick, Exeter and Glasgow, have removed or made optional books that students might find ‘harmful’. The investigation also uncovered 1,081 ‘trigger warnings’ applied to texts across undergraduate courses. Incredibly, some academics used social media to try to block Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made by the Times, and some universities declined to answer FOI requests on the grounds that disclosure would have a “potentially negative personal impact” on staff.

The justifications given for this egregious censorship would be almost funny if it weren’t for the grave picture they paint of academic institutions more concerned with coddling students than opening their minds. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, a novel intended to illuminate the horrors of slavery, was removed from a reading list by Essex University for containing “graphic description of violence and abuse of slavery”. Likewise, Miss Julie by August Strindberg, a play tackling themes of mental anguish, was removed from the Sussex syllabus because it “contains discussion of suicide”. As Trevor Phillips points out, the decision to erase the horrors of slavery to preserve the comfort of students is “a textbook case of institutional racism”: 

The cancellation of black lives in order to make other people feel comfortable about their own past tells us what really matters to these self-styled anti-racists – their own refined sensibilities.

Phillips takes aim at “a wider wave of censorship on British campuses”, stating that “the trigger warnings, book removals and cancellations are just a disguised campaign of thought control”. Limiting the range of knowledge that students have access to because some people might be hurt or offended undermines the purpose of a university education. Students should be encouraged to explore the most diverse range of views possible and exercise their freedom of speech to confront uncomfortable realties fearlessly.

McCarthyite list of feminist academics proposed by University and College Union

Minutes from a University and College Union meeting leaked to the Times this week reveal a McCarthyite plan by Britain’s largest academic trade union to compile a list of heretical academics. The minutes detailed the plan of UCU to warn institutions about any gender critical staff employed in HR or as consultants on the grounds that “some of the EDI (Equality, diversity and inclusion) consultants are transphobes and prominent gender critical activists” likely to cause “problems” for the organisation. The minutes further recorded:

Supporting branches in combatting transphobia is important through education but there are a small core of people who are so entrenched in their views and the UCU needs to address this issue… It is important to look at ways of tackling these transphobes.

Whistle-blowers inside UCU report that a group of academics hostile to free speech are responsible for the censorious culture emerging in the union. As the feminist academic Jo Phoenix commented: “Now that we have trade unions who are prepared to sell women’s rights down the river, it is devastating, terrifying and very, very sad. What we are seeing is a very high intolerance to academic freedom and plurality of viewpoint.”

We encourage any of our members facing penalties for expressing their gender critical views at university to get in touch with our case team.

Was identity politics responsible for the grooming gang scandals?

Subscribers to Don’t Divide Us, an anti-woke educational organisation, can now purchase tickets for ‘Conspicuous Silence – How Identity Politics Caused the Grooming Gangs Scandal’, a panel discussion on the unintended consequences of identity politics chaired by Dr Rakib Ehsan. Dr Ehsan will be joined by commentators Khadija Khan and Hardeep Singh at 6pm on September 1st at Accent Global, 12 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3JA. Click here to donate and become a DDU subscriber in order to purchase a ticket.

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.

Best wishes,

Carrie Clark

Research Officer