- The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has invited the public to engage in its free speech inquiry
- Censorship on campus highlighted as an area of focus
LONDON (20 January 2021) – Can we better protect free speech in the UK? Censorship policies have been coming under increasing scrutiny throughout the past year, especially with regard to educational institutions. Cambridge University overthrew an attempt to thwart open conversation on its campus in November, and instances of “deplatforming” speakers for their views have been numerous. The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has invited the public to raise their concerns on the issue by the 31st of January.
“Universities, of all places, should be where open conversation and debate can flourish. However, increasing evidence has shown that the idea of a diverse learning environment is being eroded, with students forbidden from sharing their opinions – either implicitly or explicitly. Over 40% feel that their lecturers will treat them “differently” if they are open about their views. We’re calling on the Joint Committee on Human Rights to take action to protect students who are excluded and silenced on campus simply for their beliefs,” said Jeremiah Igunnubole, Legal Counsel for ADF UK.
The Protect Free Speech campaign is urging the government to ensure universities uphold their legal duties to protect freedom of speech. Amongst other steps, the campaign calls for clear government guidance on freedom of speech on university campuses, and for university staff and student representatives to receive comprehensive training on their responsibilities to uphold and protect freedom of speech as part of their basic induction. You can sign your support here.
Inquiry welcome chance for pro-life students to voice concerns
The results of the inquiry will be of particular interest to marginalised students such as Julia Rynkiewicz, the midwifery student who was suspended from her course for publicly expressing “pro-life” views. With the support of ADF International, she challenged the university’s treatment of her and later accepted an apology and settlement.
But Julia’s case is not isolated. According to recent polling conducted by Survation, over a quarter of students in a nation-wide study stated that they hid their views on campus in case they clashed with the university, including on topics relating to politics, religion and ethics.
The survey also revealed that 1 in 3 fear their career would be adversely affected if they expressed their views on issues important to them.
“Too often we have witnessed a students’ union ‘pick sides’ on a social or moral issue and attempt to censor one side of the debate. Universities should be committed to embracing a diversity of views across the student body and improved guidance and training is desperately needed. The Joint Committee on Human Rights should recognise that students face social exclusion, or even elevated disciplinary action, simply because other students or staff disagree with their views. Such a culture runs against the very purpose of campus life and the wider mission of a university,” said Ryan Christopher, Director of ADF UK.