Freedom of Speech in Universities: MPs and Lords want to hear from you Watch

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The Joint Committee on Human Rights wants to hear from you to help with their inquiry on freedom of speech in universities.

Universities have a duty to protect freedom of speech on campus but student unions say that they have the right to refuse speakers.

Universities have a duty to protect freedom of speech on campus, including student union premises. Student unions say they have the right to refuse speakers. Should universities be responsible for the activities of their student unions?

The Committee wants to know:
- The right to lawful free speech may conflict with other rights, such as the right not to be discriminated against. How important is free speech compared to other rights?
- If there are problems with certain individuals or groups speaking in universities, what are the reasons for this?
- Who should take responsibility for balancing the right to free speech with other rights: Government, the Office for Students, the university, the student union or individual student societies?

Your responses will be shared with the Committee to help inform their inquiry. Find out more about the Joint Committee on Human Rights here.
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Andrewmcdonagh
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If the government decides what topics are allowed free speech, then it could lead to overwhelming censorship. As an individual, we all have limits to what we would want to allow to be said in public, even if that limit is “anything and everything”. What we shouldn’t limit though, is the free speech of criticism. Whether it is offensive or not to an individual, is entirely down to those individuals, which is a wrong reason to ban something. For example, opinions that are negative to a religion should always be tolerated, because it’s about a concept not a person. We allow all free speech concerning political beliefs, and these really are no different to religious beliefs.
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48568
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Freedom of speech should not mean forcing Unions and Universities to host speakers against their will. Should they not have freedom to decide who speaks there? Also, no-platforming is usually raised as an issue when extreme right-wing speakers are not invited to speak at unis. But why should people with extreme, inflammatory views be allowed to speak here when they would not elsewhere: for example, if their views are racist or otherwise discriminatory, this is illegal and they would not be able to speak in any decent public space.
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Rattie
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Nobody has the right to force someone else to provide them with a platform. It's quite simple. Freedom of speech is about the right to state one's opinions without the threat of state action, within limits set to prevent harm to others. You can argue where that limits should be, but you can't argue that individuals or organisations should be legally obliged to facilitate others' rights to state their opinions. Issues come up when the organisations are state bodies with special privileges like the BBC, but I would argue that universities are not such institutions.
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CountBrandenburg
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Free speech is of course an upmost priority in a liberal society. But conversely universities and unions can also reserve the right to not give a platform to speakers should they so choose. I think our state should leave the intricacies to such platforms to decide who can raise their issues, though the usual rules should apply about giving a platform to extremist views.
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scrum0211
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Universities throughout history were places where ideas were exchanged and debated, if an idea is harmful it should be openly disproved in a public forum instead of being censored. Free speech is one of the great principals of not only our democracy, but our society as well. Excluding speech that promotes violence you should have the right to speak freely at universities and elsewhere.
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Kurtsz
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Is it just me, or do people love to be afraid that a hot topic political issue such as "Freedom of Speech" or "No platforming" can actually be quite complicated?
Perhaps it's parallel to the UK's current politics with people, in the words of DJ Casper, sliding to the left and sliding to the right. People seem to be on the side of "Universities should choose" or "everyone gets a platform".
Where has the real thought gone from the issue?
It seems clear to me that a measured, thought out approach to who should and shouldn't speak at a University is entirely possible to agree upon. That does not mean I believe it is easy.
Should a University be forced to host Paul Golding? No, probably not. I say probably because maybe someone could convince me otherwise - I'm open to debate. Golding has no academic merit and honestly nobody would even turn up anyway. It's one thing to force Universities to give someone a platform, it's another thing to force students to turn up.
However, should Germaine Greer be no platformed? Many students at Cardiff University seemed to think so, due to her apparently trans-phobic views. The merit of her being an established writer and vocal feminist was completely besides the point. "She has views which disagree with mine so she can f*ck off", was the attitude of many.
Now I don't mean to be comparing Greer to Golding by any means, and there will definitely be more complicated cases than these two. However people who are pushing for free speech and open debate on campuses seem to be entirely against debating whether certain individuals should given a platform. Maybe it's time we treat things on a case by case basis.
That being said, students are increasingly closing themselves off from different views and opinions. From joining the Tory or the Labour or the Libdem or the feminist or one of the countless number of ethnicity societies at University, to locking themselves into their echo chamber online, following only who they agree with on twitter, joining only Facebook groups with like minded people. If there is anywhere in the world that people should be forced outside of their comfort zone, to integrate and socialise with people of different opinions, and to be open to hearing talks from people they may disagree with, it should be at Universities.
Students aren't little snowflakes. They're more like branflakes, significantly tougher, but will still go soggy if you put them in milk.
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VinnicombeDmv
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Free speech is critical in any open and free society. We can all agree on that, so what exactly is the problem?

Well, it often comes down to speakers getting rejected and thinking their free speach was censored or impeded. No, it wasn't. Just as one should be free to voice their opinions, so too should they be free to be subject to any actions that arise as consequence for voicing their opinion. If you spew hateful propaganda, then it's not surprising that people don't want to give you a platform. Don't want to be no-platformed? Don't be a bigot.

However, I am also strongly of the belief that we should hear everyone out. If someone spews bigoted nonsense, let it be heard and let people humiliate the bigot and let them show the world publicly how nonsensical the speaker is. When you decide to recind an invitiation after protest, you're just making that speaker a martyr for their cause.

Most speakers that get rejected, or that have their invitation recinded following protests, often don't have entirely bigoted views. Some, perhaps, but mostly it's just very critical viewpoints. Criticism isn't bad. Just because you criticise the trans movement doesn't make you a bigot. For heck sakes, I'm a member of the LGBTG community and I'm critical of the trans movement. I'm not bigoted against trans people and I don't have anything against them. Generally speaking, I couldn't care less what they do with their lives, just as I don't care about what other strangers do with their lives.

In short, just let people speak their mind regardless of their stance on anything. If it's clearly racist or discrimantory, then let the audience critique them for it.
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ch3w1tt
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Imo free speech is more important than the right to be free from harassment solely because harassment us so subjective . What's a joke to someone is harassment to someone else , that's far too subjective a basis to be removing or limiting something as integral to a democratic society as freedom of speech.
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ch3w1tt
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(Original post by Official House of Commons)
The Joint Committee on Human Rights wants to hear from you to help with their inquiry on freedom of speech in universities.

Universities have a duty to protect freedom of speech on campus but student unions say that they have the right to refuse speakers.

Universities have a duty to protect freedom of speech on campus, including student union premises. Student unions say they have the right to refuse speakers. Should universities be responsible for the activities of their student unions?

The Committee wants to know:
- The right to lawful free speech may conflict with other rights, such as the right not to be discriminated against. How important is free speech compared to other rights?
- If there are problems with certain individuals or groups speaking in universities, what are the reasons for this?
- Who should take responsibility for balancing the right to free speech with other rights: Government, the Office for Students, the university, the student union or individual student societies?

Your responses will be shared with the Committee to help inform their inquiry. Find out more about the Joint Committee on Human Rights here.
Imo free speech is more important than the right to be free from harassment solely because harassment is subjective m

What is a joke to one person is harassment to another, which is a very subjective basis to be balancing the removal of something as integral to a democratic society as free speech.
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CC2000
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* Universities should be responsible for the activities of their student unions, since they are an embodiment of the university’s student population, and are operated in collaboration with the University as a whole. * One would expect one’s university to provide a comprehensive, and meaningful education, not just of one’s chosen degree course of study, but also of the wider world. Cultures, social norms and traditions, political ideologies, economics, and climate change, for example, are a range of topics that one would hope to gain a knowledge of during one’s time at university. Such topics are worthy of debate, and moreover, debate of such topics enables one to develop or change one’s own opinion or view towards domestic and global affairs, or issues, like those listed above. * The freedom for one to express one’s own opinion is vital in a free democracy, such as that of the United Kingdom. Removal of this essential human right, via censorship, is a rather draconian practice; uncomplimentary with modern Britain. * In addition, freedom of speech is not worthy of greater importance than that of the right to not be discriminated against, but is of equal importance. * Yet, one struggles with this question: is it discriminatory to limit someone’s freedom of speech? One would think so. Therefore, the idea that certain human rights are more valuable than others is ignorant, and uncovers a slight hypocrisy in the idea that it is acceptable (within universities) to discriminate against controversial individuals, but it is not acceptable for individuals to express supposedly discriminatory opinions. It is perhaps this view that limits society from integrating fully, and prevents true equality from being met. Equality was never gained by silencing the minority. Therefore silencing the minority (of controversial individuals), no matter how vile their views are, is unfit in 21st century Britain. * Although there are individuals who share views that may make one feel repulsed, such as Neo-Nazis, there is a need for all to question their views. Since their views are probably informed, and/or influenced by their life experiences, as one is highly unlikely to stand in front of a crowd, to talk about their personal and controversial views, without being informed, and/or passionate. Challenging these controversial views could make the individual reconsider their view. Furthermore, the presence of such controversial people in society runs deeper, and will perhaps highlight to students, or politicians now (as this issue has gained fresh attention) that disenfranchised people DO exist in the UK. Perhaps these controversial people are like those who support populist leaders, or radical change, since current strategies to create an economy, and society fit for all are insufficient, and socio-economic disparity is prominent (e.g. north-south divide) in the UK to date.* Shielding students from the hate that exists in society is very naive, since students cannot gain a full understanding of the wider world. Students should be protected on campus, yet all opinions must be heard in university theatres, not least, proper debate outside the UK’s universities, like those in Parliament, do not attempt to deliberately exclude certain voices from the debate, because doing so would be foolish, and would risk the existence of bias. * Furthermore, students also have the freedom to abstain from attending talks by controversial figures, so students, being the independent academics they are, should feel comfortable to not attend a meeting in which someone they disagree with will be speaking. Therefore, If universities are supposed to be preparing Britain’s young adults for life outside the education system, where civilised and open debate is the norm, perhaps ‘no-platforming’ is not the best way to support a student’s educational experience, and transformation into a fully self-dependent citizen. * In addition, since the government and schools across the UK fuels the existence of overt discrimination within the education system, which is seen within gendered school uniform policies, and the vague coverage of school uniforms in the Equality Act 2010, one would not be surprised if the issue of ‘no-platforming’ continued after this committee, since most UK Governments to date, along with educational institutions have failed in the past to care sufficiently about genuine equality within the education system or wider society. In other words: if ‘no-platforming’ is deemed to be discriminatory or wrong after this committee- then continued institutional discrimination in other parts of the education system must be reformed too. * The shunning of controversial views, opinions, and individuals, by student unions (or society as a whole) is contrary to the ideals of a free democracy, liberalism, and are not least, contradictory to the purpose of a fulfilled education. One has the right to peacefully debate issues with others. Therefore one must have the right to speak one’s views, and listen to the views of others.* Moving forward: the right to free speech should be enshrined in UK law, particularly after Brexit. It should be the university’s responsibility to monitor the balancing of free speech, which should report back to the Minister for Universities, and perhaps with the help of an appropriate independent body. This way freedom of speech at universities can be monitored centrally, and locally, to ensure continuity across the UK’s universities,and their student unions and societies.* Finally, Politics is morphed by civilised and open debate. In a similar way, society can be morphed, for the better, with civilised and open debate.
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DesDrapeaux
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Free speech is essential. This right to not be discriminated against, the notion that you can restrict certain words to uphold it, that is foolish. The fact is that words can have interpretations. What one man would say is “terrific”, in that it id good, another could perceive that he implies the traditional sense of the word, that it is fearful. My point being that words alone are open to the subjective interpretation of the listener. This subjective interpretation is not solid enough to justify any legislation enforcing a nation such as “offensiveness”. We must also consider that, in this theme of interpretation, context can drastically affect the impact of our words. For instance, if I said “I’m going to punch you” to a stranger, in a menacing a tone, that’s a threat, yet if I said the same thing to a friend, in a light-hearted tone, that’s just a hyperbole for a person’s irritation. It’s this context that makes banning certain words or phrases absolutely foolish. The fact is this: Words mean different things in different circumstances.The penultimate point is that legislature, by HM’s Government, is not enough to justify enforcing restrictions on speech. Context is a subjective thing that needs to be subjectively assessed. It can’t be overseen by the regulatory guidelines of laws. They do not allow the room for exceptions that a sound individual would consider to be truly just.My final point, however, is that it is down to the individual to choose which speech they do and do not want to hear. In the case of a speaker, just leave the room. No one is forcing you to listen, hence if you don’t want to listen, you can stop listening. Subjective offense does not give you the right to deprive from the enjoyment of others.
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04MR17
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- The right to lawful free speech may conflict with other rights, such as the right not to be discriminated against. How important is free speech compared to other rights?

The difference is in tolerance and respect and the manner in which the opinion is expressed. Someone might have some controversial opinions, and they might be pretty extreme, and they are welcome to voice those opinions, voice their thoughts. Where I draw the line is when they are being used to attack people. Something is only offensive when somebody takes offence. My message to anyone would be to "say what you want, but don't hurt anyone in the process".

- If there are problems with certain individuals or groups speaking in universities, what are the reasons for this?

There are a few problems. One of the most common I believe is simply one person not understanding clearly what the other is trying to say. The topics when problems occur are rarely simple. And if a speaker is trying to provide a complex analysis of something, and if they don't choose their words carefully enough; then they are liable to be misinterpreted. The next thing we hear is it's headlines in tabloids because a quote is taken out of context. I'm not defending speakers because they are often treading some very treacherous borderlines on many contentious issues. Media blow-ups happen to teachers, politicians, and lots of people really when things get taken out of context. Of course, there are serious cases where speakers have not been tolerant or fair with what they say, but largely what is presented is exaggeration in my view.

- Who should take responsibility for balancing the right to free speech with other rights: Government, the Office for Students, the university, the student union or individual student societies?

I'm not sure it matters. As long as there is a code of conduct, maybe shared at Student Union and University level (since the two are often independent from each other, and will be held responsible for separate events), based on guidelines from central authority, then I think that is a safe method of protection against the infringement of rights. Universities and SUs can have their own disciplinary procedures for the infringement of rights and I think this ought to be welcomed. I should add that it may be worth including a responsibility for a central authority to ensure rough consistency in how tough universities are on the subject. It wouldn't be fair for a speaker to face problems in one university, but is welcomed at a nearby university, where they can find exactly the same audience.
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Joep95
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(Original post by 04MR17)
- The right to lawful free speech may conflict with other rights, such as the right not to be discriminated against. How important is free speech compared to other rights?

The difference is in tolerance and respect and the manner in which the opinion is expressed. Someone might have some controversial opinions, and they might be pretty extreme, and they are welcome to voice those opinions, voice their thoughts. Where I draw the line is when they are being used to attack people. Something is only offensive when somebody takes offence. My message to anyone would be to "say what you want, but don't hurt anyone in the process".

- If there are problems with certain individuals or groups speaking in universities, what are the reasons for this?

There are a few problems. One of the most common I believe is simply one person not understanding clearly what the other is trying to say. The topics when problems occur are rarely simple. And if a speaker is trying to provide a complex analysis of something, and if they don't choose their words carefully enough; then they are liable to be misinterpreted. The next thing we hear is it's headlines in tabloids because a quote is taken out of context. I'm not defending speakers because they are often treading some very treacherous borderlines on many contentious issues. Media blow-ups happen to teachers, politicians, and lots of people really when things get taken out of context. Of course, there are serious cases where speakers have not been tolerant or fair with what they say, but largely what is presented is exaggeration in my view.

- Who should take responsibility for balancing the right to free speech with other rights: Government, the Office for Students, the university, the student union or individual student societies?

I'm not sure it matters. As long as there is a code of conduct, maybe shared at Student Union and University level (since the two are often independent from each other, and will be held responsible for separate events), based on guidelines from central authority, then I think that is a safe method of protection against the infringement of rights. Universities and SUs can have their own disciplinary procedures for the infringement of rights and I think this ought to be welcomed. I should add that it may be worth including a responsibility for a central authority to ensure rough consistency in how tough universities are on the subject. It wouldn't be fair for a speaker to face problems in one university, but is welcomed at a nearby university, where they can find exactly the same audience.
What happens if someone says they are hurt by what you are saying?
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tashkent46
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a) There is no such thing as absolute free speech, there exists laws against libel, hate speech, death threats, and offensive images. The government already has an answer because of existing legislation, it is ok to legislate speech in certain instances (or we'd have to repeal the above)
b) Since the law already deals with libel, discrimination, death threats, as long as the law is not likely to be broken I see no reason to prohibit speakers.
c) Students are legally adults, they are not forced to attend.
d) Refusing guest speakers will likely be counter intuitive as it will be argued that stifling debate means they have a point.
e) If certain individuals or groups have a problem with guest speakers attending, they should have a right to peaceful protest, to deter people from going within any legal means, but the speaker should still be allowed to attend.
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Algorithmic
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Yikes. Some of you guys need to use that Enter key to add paragraphs!
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username1524603
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Free speech is a right more fundamental than a right not to be offended, I believe this is something all individuals agree with if the speech is about a topic the individuals has knowledge of. By this I mean the support for free speech depends on knowledge and confidence, if a student knows a lot about a topic they are happy to engage with different opinions. When it comes to topics the student knows little about, the student is less happy to engage in debate, choosing to label an opinion they dislike as offensive; a -phobic, for instance, Xenophobic; or as an ad hominem. It is from this safe-spaces, no-platform, and other restrictions develop to protect students from debate and scrutiny. The restrictions are based on a desire to cleanse a world of debate because the students feel uncomfortable debating and being challenged. There is evidence to support this claim, inside university debating societies, law mooting societies, and other societies where the purpose is debate, the support for free speech is higher. In the societies where students are opinionated, outspoken, used to debate, and are regularly challenged, debate is more readily accepted as a medium to challenge things than the use of restrictions.

The Government's role should be to introduce a governing body for student unions to prevent student union introducing restrictive policies to protect students who are afraid of engaging in debate. In the world after university, individuals are challenged on a daily basis with the ability to retreat to safe-spaces not existing, allowing students to hide from the challenges they will face in the future is not a good solution. The shock of not being able to control things said to them, the different viewpoints heard, and the personal criticism they will receive could lead to more mental health issues, reclusive behaviour, and social anxiety. Students need to stand up for themselves, students should not have the option to run away to hide.
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04MR17
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(Original post by joecphillips)
What happens if someone says they are hurt by what you are saying?
Then the code of conduct comes into action and a procedure takes place looking closely at what went on and a judgement reached about whether anyone was at fault.
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Davij038
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Yeah we should have an absoloute right to free speech - that truly includes everyone even those with whom we disagree eg Islamists , pro paedo groups etc .

I think universities have a duty to champion free speech and not boycott speakers.... if there is a demand for them. So for instance if a group of people want to invite someone who is pro shariah law, then they should be allowed to attend.


I find the Orwellian nature of universities deeply troubling.
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Paul Butler
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No-one has the right to decide what I can say, how I say it and who I say it to. My free speech is the most important aspect of my human rights. No-one has the right to block or censor any news on social media, newspaper or TV Channel. Free uncensored information is the most important aspect of my human rights.I am 64 years Old with 10 O levels, 3 A levels, 2 degrees and an accountancy qualification. I am my own censor and that trumps the opinion of tin pot career politicians, left wing biased Metropolitan media hypocrites, social justice warriors and victim seekers.Please keep your [email protected]@king noses out of my life.
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