Weekly news round-up

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

The FSU Christmas Special – a festive comedy extravaganza

Round up your comedy-loving friends and family for the FSU Christmas Special, a one night only extravaganza of comedy with a fabulous line-up, in association with Comedy Unleashed, the home of free-thinking comedy. The event takes place on Monday 12th December at the Backyard Comedy Club, Bethnal Green, London (please arrive by 7pm). Comedy legend Bobby Davro is our Master of Ceremonies for the evening and will be joined on stage by stand-up comedian and GB News presenter Leo Kearse, Comedy Unleashed favourite Mary Bourke and comedian and Radio 4 ‘personality’ Simon Evans. Join the fun with the FSU team and helps us raise funds to defend freedom of speech. This event is open to the public, so please spread the word. Tickets on sale here.

Sign our petition urging Elon Musk to stop banning gender critical voices on Twitter

We’ve started a petition urging Elon Musk to restore the accounts of people expressing gender critical views on Twitter, e.g. the view that sex is biological and immutable and women can’t have penises. We think the number of accounts that have been banned for this reason runs into the hundreds and possibly the thousands. Here is one of the key paragraphs:

Some gender critical accounts have been taken down simply for asserting the view that sex should be defined biologically. Posts such as “Only females get cervical cancer”, “If you have a uterus you will be female”, “If you have periods you are a woman” and “Having a penis is what makes someone male” were all deemed by Twitter to be in violation of the platform’s rules against ‘hateful conduct’. But such views are not hateful. In banning gender critical accounts on the grounds that such views are ‘hateful’ – or banning accounts because they have ‘misgendered’ or ‘deadnamed’ trans people – Twitter is appealing to an imaginary consensus in favour of the view that it is transphobic to define sex as biological and immutable, or that self-declared gender identity should determine access to single sex spaces and services, or that people are entitled to compel others to use their preferred gender pronouns. No such consensus exists, which leads us to conclude that the reason so many gender critical accounts have been banned is because Twitter’s content moderators have taken the side of the transrights activists in this debate. If Twitter is to become the digital town square you want it to be, where free speech is sacrosanct, the moderators must remain above the fray when it comes to matters of ongoing public debate. They should act as holders of the ring, not political combatants.

Please sign the petition and help persuade Twitter’s new owner to lift the ban. You can find the petition here.

New research reveals generational divide on free speech issues

A new report for the think-tank Policy Exchange by FSU Advisory Council member Professor Eric Kaufmann has found compelling evidence that UK schools are becoming sites for indoctrination rather than education (Telegraph, Times, Unherd). The report surveyed attitudes among different age groups and found that young people are markedly less liberal than older generations on issues like free speech, democracy and the need for tolerance of dissenting opinions. Specifically:

  • Nearly a third (29%) of 18-24 year-olds say author JK Rowling should be dropped by her publishers for her gender critical views – that figure falls to 10% among adults, and just 3% among those over 50.
  • An equal proportion of young people (38%) agreed and disagreed with the idea of removing Winston Churchill’s statue from Parliament Square because he held racist views – among adults as a whole, 68% disagreed with moving the statue compared to just 12% who agreed.
  • Two in five 18-24 year-olds agree that schools should “teach students that Britain was founded on racism and remains structurally racist today” while 25% disagree – adults as a whole rejected that statement by 53% to 24%.

It’s all too easy to blame ‘perma-offended’ young people for this generational divide, says Madeline Grant (Telegraph). But what about those she describes as “enabling adults”? After all, educationalists have long understood that teaching professionals are important role models, possessed of the capacity to influence the attitudes, values and behaviours of those under their tutelage. So when, say, colleagues of the philosopher Kathleen Stock turn and look the other way as she’s getting hounded on campus by transactivists (Unherd), or when senior academics fire off emails to students that denounce visiting speakers like Dr Helen Joyce and apologise for the “distress” her immutable biological presence on campus may cause (Spectator, Telegraph), or when academics instigate public discussions about how to cancel an early career researcher who has been investigating the various forms of discrimination experienced by gender critical feminists in academia (Spiked), or when… and so on and so forth – in those moments it’s difficult to believe that impressionable young undergraduates aren’t able to spot the moral of the story for anyone who wants to get ahead in life.  

Joanna Williams seems inclined to agree, although the “enabling adults” she’s concerned about aren’t academics, but teachers (Spiked). So-called ‘activist teaching’ has been on the rise for a while (Guardian, Spiked, Telegraph), but what the Policy Exchange report reveals is that the politicisation of children’s education is beginning to have an impact on the views of young people. Polling commissioned for the report reveals that six out of 10 school leavers say they were either taught about ideas associated with neo-Marxist critical race theory or heard about them from an adult at their school. These include concepts like white privilege, systemic racism and unconscious bias. Slightly more – 65% – say they either encountered the concept of patriarchy or the idea that there are multiple genders from adults at school.

As to what we should do about it, Joanna thinks it’s high time activist teachers had some schooling of their own – the crucial idea that none of them seem to have grasped, she says, is that conveying subject knowledge and pushing a particular political view are not the same thing when you’re a salaried, public-sector worker in a western, liberal democracy.

Not that that would solve the problem overnight. As she readily concedes, there’s the rest of the ‘woke-pedagogic-complex’ to think about. Because behind every local, pink-haired, non-binary teacher forcing children to take the knee are the academics writing the school curriculum and textbooks, the university educationalists training each successive generation of teachers, the journalists and campaigners agitating for their own pet issues to gain a foothold in the classroom, and the people stocking the school library and putting together online resources for teachers and children alike.

Employee activists thwarted in bid to cancel academic conference

An academic conference in Glasgow was nearly axed at the last minute because LGBTQ+ venue workers were so upset at the thought of the event’s likely content that they “weren’t willing” to come to work (Christian Institute, Scottish Daily Express, Times).

The ‘Education not Indoctrination’ event was originally due to take place last Saturday at Civic House at the city’s Speirs Locks. Delegates including Dr Stuart Waiton (Abertay University), Emeritus Professor Frank Furedi (University of Kent) and Dr Penny Lewis (Dundee University) were set to debate the ways in which woke ideology is taking over schools and universities, and often has a ‘chilling effect’ on those who dissent from it.

Speaking to the Scottish Daily Express, Dr Waiton said: “This attempt to cancel the event is illustrative of the dangerous and deeply intolerant times we live in, where any discussion or disagreement about issues like race and gender are silenced. The whole point of this conference is to have a discussion about some of the dogmatic and ideological developments in schools, developments that clash with the idea of an open, liberal education for all.”

Jointly organised by education campaign group Hands Up Scotland, alongside The Christian Institute, Academics for Academic Freedom, The Battle for Ideas, Stand By Me (Scotland) and For Women Scotland, the conference comes at a crucial time for schools, particularly in Scotland, where the SNP-led government is at the vanguard of imposing woke values on society.

Take Education Scotland’s forthcoming Racial Literary Programme, for instance, with its content on intersectionality, anti-racism and “racial microaggressions” (Critic). Then there’s the General Teaching Council of Scotland’s renewed professional standards document, which states that “Scottish teachers must demonstrate professional values of social justice”. There’s also the Scottish Government’s new sex-education curriculum, which will expose very young children to overtly sexualised material and risks normalising underage sexual activity (Herald). And there’s also a new LGBTQ+ vocabulary (cisgender, transgender, bisexual, non-binary, genderfluidity) being taught in schools, and new government guidance on ‘Supporting Transgender Pupils in Schools’, which advises teachers not to question a child’s desire to transition (Times).

Important issues, you might think. But not everyone agrees that any of this should be up for debate.

In an email sent a few days before the event was supposed to take place, Agile City, a “community interest company” which operates the Civic House venue, emailed the organisers claiming that the conference’s programme had upset the values of protesting LGBTQ+ staff who would refuse to come to work if the event went ahead. Agile City said: “The content of the event has just been highlighted to us via your online marketing, and through further research to be in opposition to the values held by our team and staff members who comprise part of the LGBTQ+ community. As such the staff who were booked to manage the event are not willing to work. Without staffing in place, we cannot host your event.”

What the whole affair reveals, according to Rob Lyons, “is the brittleness of woke thinking” (Spiked). It is one thing to be passionate about particular issues, he says. But it’s something else entirely to think that the mere airing of a different point of view is a threat, in and of itself.

Thankfully, the story has a happy ending – conference organisers were able to find another venue and the event went ahead at the city’s Tron Church.

FSU T-Shirts – back by popular demand!

Back by popular demand, our new stock of exclusive T-shirts, featuring Bob Moran’s fabulous ‘Orwell Surprised’ cartoon, has arrived. For only £20, including first class UK postage, you can show your support for free speech while helping us raise funds to continue doing what we do best. If you order before 1st December, UK orders should arrive in time to make the perfect Christmas gift. This is our last batch of 2022, so please order now to avoid disappointment. You can access our merch store by clicking here.

Women’s rights campaigner attacked by pro-trans activists now threatened with arrest for ‘hate crime’​

Sussex Police has threatened a women’s rights group founder with arrest in connection with something she said at a feminist rally two months ago unless she ‘voluntarily’ agrees to be interviewed at a police station. Ironically, she and other protestors were attacked by transrights activists at the rally (Mail).

Kellie-Jay Keen, whose online campaigning name is ‘Posie Parker’, was told by a Sussex police officer that a complaint had been made alleging she had used “words or behaviour to stir up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation”.

Before the event in question – a Let Women Speak rally held in Brighton on September 18th – Kellie-Jay was sent threatening messages, including some advising trans activists to “fight her by any means you see fit”. Officers arrested two people at the rally after masked pro-trans campaigners clashed with attendees (SpikedCritic). It prompted JK Rowling to tweet: “I see the Be Kind brigade are once more hiding behind their black masks, throwing smoke bombs, screaming ‘scum’ at women speaking up for their sex-based rights.”

Ms Keen has now released a recording of the phone call she received from Sussex Police, in which she was threatened with arrest (which you can listen to in full here). Pressed by her as to what the allegation was, the police caller replied: “The crime is use of words or behaviour to stir up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. It’s gonna be a voluntary interview so you can give your side of the story as well.”

But when the officer is asked exactly how voluntary the interview is, she replies: “If you don’t attend then we will potentially be looking at getting Wiltshire Police to come and arrest you so they can come and interview you themselves.”

Sussex Police has found itself at the centre of a series of controversies regarding gender and women’s rights and has previously been described as being “at the forefront of ‘woke’ politics” (Telegraph).

The force was subject to ridicule in 2017 after a sergeant warned high street stores that “feminine care” signs on women’s sanitary products breached gender equality rules. More recently, Sussex Police unveiled plans for a system where criminals can be recorded as having no gender or other identities (Independent).

In 2020, the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner trumpeted the inclusion of Sussex Police in Stonewall’s Top 100 LGBT inclusive employers.

Earlier this year, approximately three dozen officers, including Chief Constable Jo Shiner, celebrated this year’s Brighton LGBTQ+ Pride event by posing in rainbow colours and tweeting “Have a ‘fabuloso’ time!” (Breitbart).

In September, the force was criticised by Home Secretary Suella Braverman for “playing identity politics and denying biology” after its Twitter account leapt to the defence of a male paedophile who identified as a woman and who had been misgendered online, warning social media users that they could be committing a hate crime and suggesting that “if you have gender critical views you wish to express this can be done on other platforms or your own page, not targeted at an individual” (SpectatorTelegraph).

Free Speech Cambridge book launch event – register for tickets here!

Free Speech Cambridge, an independent group of free speech enthusiasts in the Cambridge area, would like to invite FSU members to a friendly pre-Christmas drinks and celebration at the Pottery Shed in the Waterman pub in Cambridge (CB4 3AX) on Tuesday 6th December. The occasion will also be a book launch for Jerome Booth’s ‘Have We All Gone Mad?’ – a timely investigation into the rise of groupthink. Please arrive from 6pm with the talk starting at 7pm. There will be plenty of time for Q and A, general chat and socialising. Copies of Jerome’s book will be on sale, so please bring cash (actual cash) if you’d like to buy one. To confirm attendance, for further information and to join Free Speech Cambridge’s mailing list, please contact [email protected]

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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. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Best wishes,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer