Why we need The Free Speech Union

free speech, News

Do we need a Free Speech Union (FSU)? The answer is ‘Yes!’

A group like Academics For Academic Freedom (AFAF) can work effectively in the university sector. We already publicise attacks on free speech and academic freedom, as well as developments in support of them. We have come a long way since the launch of the AFAF Statement of Academic Freedom in 2006, when some said we were doing little more than demanding a ‘right to offend’.

We undertake case work. We advise academics under threat of disciplinary action or dismissal for what they have said or written. But many of these cases occur in what has been called the ‘shadow university’, and are subject to disciplinary clauses or financial settlements that gag academics. They rarely become public.

We welcome any legal or other support that the FSU could offer academics in the shadow university or the wider public.

AFAF has argued that free speech is dying in universities. Free speech is also under threat in the wider society where you can be vilified, disciplined and even sacked for expressing a thought that someone deems offensive.

AFAF welcomes the formation of the FSU. It is a bold and ambitious experiment aimed at defending free speech.

What is the FSU?

The FSU will be formally launched today, 26 February 2020, as a membership organisation. It will function like a trade union, working in the interest of its members. The FSU has been formed as a company so it can engage in political activity. The directors are the journalist Toby Young (General Secretary), author Douglas Murray, journalist Inaya Folarin Iman, Fellow of the Institute of Economic Affairs, Radomir Tylecote, and the Oxford academic, Nigel Biggar. Toby Young in particular has written and spoken about the need for the FSU for several months.

Is the FSU right-wing?

The FSU has already been denounced as right-wing on social media and in the press. This is a slur. If anyone took the time to look at the members of the FSU advisory councils, they would see that they are made up of leading figures from a variety of occupations and backgrounds – some who could be described as very left-wing and others as conservative. What they all have in common is a commitment to defending free speech as a foundational freedom.

What are the costs and benefits of FSU membership?

Full Membership of the FSU costs £49.95 and there is a Discount Membership of  £24.95 for students and other concessions. Members are offered support if their freedom of speech is attacked:

  • If you find yourself being targeted by a digital outrage mob on social media for having exercised your legal right to free speech, we will mobilise an army of supporters.
  • If a petition is launched calling for you to be fired, when you’ve done nothing other than exercise your legal right to free speech, we’ll organise a counter-petition.
  • If you’re no-platformed by a university—a feminist professor who challenges trans-orthodoxy, for instance—we’ll encourage you to go to the law and will organise a crowdfunding campaign to pay your costs.
  • If newspaper columnists and broadcasting pundits start attacking you for dissenting from ‘orthodox’ views and opinions, we could get our allies in the media to come to your defence.
  • If you’re punished by your employer because you’ve exercised your lawful right to free speech, we’ll do our best to provide you with legal assistance.

Will the FSU succeed?

The FSU is an exciting development. However, AFAF understands – and from our own experience – that the defence of free speech in the UK in the 2020s will not be easy. Mockery and mobbing are already happening. There are worries that the FSU could become a haven for racists and oddballs. These made-up fears and other attacks on the FSU will be answered and will pass. Then there will be lots of hard and difficult work to do. 

The next year will reveal if the FSU is up for the fight. Bring it on!

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