“Freedom of speech” in the United Kingdom?Caterina Milo | October 17, 2017
In the United Kingdom, freedom of speech is under threat. Two crucial events show this clearly: the banning of the Christian Union from Oxford’s fresher’s fair, and the banning of a pro-life vigil outside a Marie Stopes abortion clinic.
At Oxford, Balliol College banned the Christian Union from its fresher’s fair, an event for first-year students to get involved with clubs. The reason for such a ban was on the grounds that it would be “alienating” for students of other religions and constitute a “micro-aggression”.
The Balliol’s fair organizer argued that Christianity’s historic use as “an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism” meant that students might feel “unwelcome” in their new college if the Christian Union had a stall.
Freddy Potts, vice-president of Balliol’s Junior Common Room (JCR) committee, said that if a representative from the Christian Union (CU) attended the fair, it could cause “potential harm” to first-year students. Their “sole concern is that the presence of the CU alone may alienate incoming students”. “Christianity”, he adds “has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism”.
Lately, the JCR passed a motion condemning the JCR committees for “barring the participation of specific faith-based organizations because it was a violation of free speech, a violation of religious freedom, and sets dangerous precedents regarding the relationship between specific faiths and religious freedom”.
Dr. Joanna Williams, a university lecturer and author of Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity, said the decision to ban the Christian Union was “completely bizarre”, saying “it is intolerance being exercised in the name of inclusion.”
However, the current threat to freedom of speech does not exist solely at universities is demonstrated by a case in London-Ealing.
A London borough council voted to stop the “Good Counsel Network” holding its daily vigils outside a Marie Stopes abortion clinic. The Good Counsel Network has held vigils for twenty-three years, offering leaflets with counselling support and possibility of financial aid to women considering an abortion.
Nevertheless, the London borough council may now use a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) to enforce the ban. The so called “safe-space order”, introduced in 2014, can constitute an attach to freedom of speech by criminalising public activities that are considered unusual or unpopular, or with which the council disagree.
Such news shed light on the current attack on freedom of speech in the UK. There seems to be fewer and fewer spaces where it is “safe” and legally permissible to express your own opinion.