Some see free speech as a vice, says South Holland MP
Voltaire was right when he said: “Think for yourself, and let others enjoy the privilege of doing so too.”
Freedom of expression is an essential cornerstone of a civilised society. With it comes many of the freedoms which improve lives; amongst which the artist’s brush, the writer’s pen and the voice of the dissenter, counter the dullness of suffocating routine, writes Sir John Hayes MP.
However, there are those who see free speech as a vice.
No longer bastions of free thought and rational debate, many universities have come to epitomise ‘woke’ zealotry, with a Stasi-like hounding of ‘wrongthink’ in places that ought to champion open minded scholarship.
A pernicious minority use positions of power to enforce a doctrine of ‘emotional safety’ and so legitimise censorship of ideas and opinions that ‘might offend’.
This has led to both the ludicrous, jazz-hands replacing clapping lest it ‘trigger’ someone, and – more worrisome still – the suspension and expulsion of students and staff with views deemed to be ‘offensive’.
Too often, student unions, instead of standing up for the student body, lecture it, and university administrators, rather than guiding young minds, purge them.
These power brokers have taken it upon themselves to impress their ideology on public institutions and tighten their stranglehold over those they should serve.
Young people are being browbeaten into timidity as only ‘approved’ of thought and its expression is permitted by people who should know better in places that should be better. Examples are plentiful of the vindictive persecution of views which until recently were regarded as statements of the obvious.
Only last week a law student at a Scottish university was placed under investigation, potentially having her degree withheld, for the ‘crime’ of affirming that womanhood is determined by biology.
Dogma, having taken root in universities, has subsequently infected the rest of public life; evidenced by the spiteful hostility towards women’s domestic refuges, female-only changing rooms and ladies lavatories.
We have an obligation to give those who fall foul of the mob a way to fight back.
The Government’s Higher Education Bill, announced in the recent Queen’s Speech, gives legal form to that counter attack.
Freedom of Speech on campus should not simply be tolerated, or acknowledged, it should be celebrated as the tool which opens minds. Which is why I am so glad to see a statutory duty placed on universities and students unions to actively promote free speech.
I am pleased too that we are to have a free speech champion to hold academia to account when falling short of these new standards.
This Bill creates a new Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom with real power to monitor politically motivated dismissals and ideologically charged punishments, as well as empowering students themselves with a legal retort to sue for damages caused by such vexatious, vindictive attacks.
Students and staff have for too long been left vulnerable to the prejudices of narrow minds. A prescient, proportionate and principled response is coming to support those who face the cruel consequences of liberal intolerance.