Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has given universities across the country a final warning to uphold free speech or face new legislation from Parliament.

Culture of censorship

Writing in The Times, Mr Williamson notes that “already in Britain students have been expelled for expressing their religious beliefs.” Christian Legal Centre client Felix Ngole was expelled from University of Sheffield in 2016 for sharing his Biblical beliefs about marriage and sexuality on Facebook. The university recently rolled out a scheme to pay students to ‘challenge wrong thinking’ .

Not only this, Mr Williamson says, all too often academics are ‘no-platformed’ if they hold to certain more conservative viewpoints. The Times makes note of several several academics who were shut down by transgender activists because they believe that sex is biological and cannot be changed.

He also notes that “mass petitions have called for the dismissal or defunding of academics because of their research interests; on some occasions, universities have caved in to this pressure.” The Times references Noah Carl, a social scientist who was removed from his junior research fellowship at Cambridge after protests about his views on race and genetics.

However, Carl is not alone. Experienced psychotherapist James Caspian was also stopped from carrying out a project researching people who regret gender reassignment.

Students want a diversity of views

Mr Williamson points to research from Policy Exchange, released in November, which suggests that students do want to hear a range of views: “a large number of students want an environment in which they’re free to hear a diversity of views,” he said.

Finding a solution

Mr Williamson said he believed universities should be doing much more to uphold free speech and “promote the right culture”. He is considering greater regulation, potentially through law, if universities do not promote “unambiguous guidance” on freedom of speech and academic freedom. He said he believes it necessary to “clarify the duties” of student unions.

He continued: “If universities don’t take action, the government will. If necessary, I’ll look at changing the underpinning legal framework, perhaps to clarify the duties of students’ unions or strengthen free speech rights. I don’t take such changes lightly, but I believe we have a responsibility to do whatever necessary to defend this right.”

Republished by permission of Christian Concern.

Picture by Pierre François Joseph Tonneau (1831–1904) – ArtUK, Public Domain, Link. The Expulsion of the Fellows, 1687; Magdalen College, University of Oxford.

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