Tim Dieppe reports on the launch of the Free Speech Union
This week saw the launch of a new initiative to defend free speech. The Free Speech Union (FSU) has been set up by journalist Toby Young in order to help protect and support people who suffer in the work place or the public square for expressing what they think.
Toby Young was himself targeted by what have been called the ‘offence archaeologists’ in 2018 after being appointed to the Office for Students – a government body intended to hold universities to account. He subsequently resigned this position as a result of the backlash over some historical comments on Twitter and a dated article in the Spectator. This means he has personal experience of being hounded and penalised for comments made on social media, later deemed politically incorrect.
A Free Speech Union
Toby Young announced his intention to start a Free Speech Union in August last year in an article which attracted a lot of attention and discussion. Since then, the initiative has attracted widespread support. Key officers in the FSU include Douglas Murray, and Professor Nigel Biggar. There is a long list of luminaries on the Advisory Council, including David Starkey, Andrew Roberts, David Goodhart, Andrew Doyle, and several other academics and commentators. Membership is now growing rapidly.
People are losing their jobs
Many of Christian Concern’s legal cases raise issues of free speech. Actress Seyi Omooba was dropped from a leading role in a West End musical last year after an ‘offence archaeologist’ found a Facebook post from 2014 disagreeing with same-sex ‘marriage’. Her case is mentioned in the front page video on the FSU website. This week we have been in court defending the right to protest MP Stella Creasy’s abortion policies. Keith Waters was harassed and forced out of his job after posting a tweet critical of Pride events. Doctor, David Mackereth was forced out of his job with the Department of Work and Pensions after refusing to use transgender pronouns. Felix Ngole was expelled from university for posting comments on Facebook in support of Biblical marriage. Four years later he won the right to return to university in the Court of Appeal. Then there are street preachers, teachers, and many others.
It is becoming abundantly clear from cases like these, and many others, not always involving Christians, that, as Professor Nigel Biggar said in a Telegraph article last week, “We have a problem with free speech in this country.” People should not lose their jobs for expressing moral opinions or ideas which challenge accepted standards in society. Yet this is happening with alarming frequency.
I attended the launch event of the FSU this week. Toby Young spoke about the importance of free speech. This was followed by Douglas Murray, and Trevor Phillips who were both eloquent and excellent. Harry Miller spoke about his case against the thought police which achieved an important victory earlier this month. The real highlight, though, was Christian Concern’s client Kristie Higgs who in just two minutes told how she lost her job working in a secondary school over posts on Facebook that raised concerns about Relationships and Sex Education in her sons’ Church of England Primary School. She won the hearts of everyone in the room, many of whom were shocked by how she was treated.
Toby Young clearly intends the FSU to be a non-partisan organisation. That is how a free speech organisation should be. Free speech is for everyone, including those we disagree with. Nevertheless, it is encouraging that in the early days of the FSU, cases of Christians suffering for expressing their beliefs have already been profiled. Toby Young also wrote an excellent article this week in defence of international rugby star Israel Folau who got into trouble over tweets which criticised homosexuality and same-sex ‘marriage’. He concludes:
“If Super League rugby really is such an inclusive sport, why can’t it accommodate people whose religious views put them at odds with the prevailing moral orthodoxy? The answer, of course, is that some forms of nonconformity are protected in western society, while others provoke merciless persecution.”
Political correctness has gone too far
The launch of the FSU and the support it has obtained is encouraging to see. There is now widespread recognition that political correctness has gone too far, and that people are no longer free to say what they think if they happen to disagree with the prevailing orthodoxy. Free speech is the foundation of a free society. If we cannot say what we think then we cannot challenge the government or have anything like a functioning democracy. I have personally joined the FSU and I wish it every success in its aims to defend free speech in this country.
Find out more about Kristie Higgs