Now they’re censoring free-speech societies

If you thought students’ unions had more sense than to go after pro-free speech student groups, think again.


Topics Free Speech UK

A pro-free speech student group at Sheffield University has been told that it is a ‘red risk’ by the students’ union, the Telegraph reported yesterday. As a result, it will need to apply for approval for its events at least three weeks in advance and the SU will have ‘full and final approval’.

One of the students who set up the society, Ewan Somerville, told the Telegraph the society wasn’t even planning to invite anyone that controversial, at least by any normal definition of the word. Rather, it planned to invite ‘legitimate’ speakers who are just deemed anti-woke in today’s climate.

Regrettably, this kind of vetting is not unique to Sheffield. It is standard practice across the UK and allows students’ unions to bury all manner of potentially contentious meetings. But this is certainly one to keep an eye on, as, believe it or not, ‘students’ union tries to censor free-speech group’ is a rich subgenre of campus censorship.

In 2015, the Free Speech and Secular Society at the University of Manchester organised a meeting to discuss the question ‘Does modern feminism have a problem with free speech?’. As if to answer that question, the students’ union’s women’s officer swiftly announced that one of the speakers, radical feminist Julie Bindel, was banned from attending.

Manchester’s Free Speech and Secular Society had previously been told that it was not allowed to display a copy of the survivors edition of Charlie Hebdo, released after the slaughter of the magazine’s staff by Islamists, in case it offended Muslim students. (The cover depicted the Prophet Muhammad.)

In a similar vein, a pro-free-speech student magazine called No Offence was banned by Oxford University Students’ Union in 2015 over fears it might, er, ‘cause offence’. Students had planned to hand it out at the freshers’ fair but were told they were not allowed to. Plus, as the magazine’s editor, Jacob Williams, later told spiked, one student reported it to the police.

In 2016, students at the London School of Economics set up a ‘Speakeasy’, another free-speech society. Within a matter of days a motion had been put before the students’ union to ban it. (Luckily, that motion was roundly defeated.)

So if you think students’ unions or censorious campus activists would have more sense than to go after free-speech societies, for the optics if nothing else, think again. Best of luck to the Sheffield crew.

Picture by: Sheffield Students’ Union, published under a creative commons licence.

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Topics Free Speech UK


yonathan dagen

16th March 2020 at 12:01 pm

I am making a good pay from home 1900 Buckets/week, that is brilliant, beneath a year agone i used to be unemployed amid a monstrous economy. I pass on God consistently i used to be invested these bearings, and at present, I should pay it forward and impart it to everyone, Here is I started to.COPY THIS SITE………..


10th March 2020 at 10:17 pm

Brendan won’t be satisfied until every last student worships in the Church of Brendan.

Kay Arre

11th March 2020 at 2:04 pm

“Playing the man and not the ball” as they say. Like or dislike, Brendan, do you not think there is a valid point to respond to in this article? I don’t know, maybe that sounds a bit like engaging in a challenging debate and with ideas that may stretch the mind…you know, the thing that universities are partly supposed to train us for.

Neil John

10th March 2020 at 8:53 pm

In my experience the only s-too-dense who stand for election as student union items of furniture, chair, vice chair etc are the leftist activists and their feminista friends, the vague promises and freebies they offer are taken at face value by a few students, most are simply too busy to either become an SU committee member, or know there’s little point as the leftists will stitch up every vote to suit their agenda.

A group of students at my son’s Uni wanted to start an air-soft group, lots of exercise and fresh air, their SU blocked it at every turn, led by a “fat frumpy feminasti bitch” as it was primarily, in her opinion, a male activity, no matter there were several female students who wanted to join too. She even went as far as the threaten them if they went on their own to comp’s and let slip they were students at that Uni she’d have them suspended, three other Uni’s had air-soft teams who went to the same events, ALL of them duly approved and insured as SU soc’s.

Freedom of thought, let alone speech, is a rare thing in too many Universities…

John Pretty

13th March 2020 at 10:21 am

“In my experience the only s-too-dense who stand for election as student union items of furniture, chair, vice chair etc are the leftist activists and their feminista friends”

You may well be right. But surely this is the problem. If more ordinary students stood for office and got themselves for election these nutjobs would have no authority.

Kay Arre

10th March 2020 at 3:59 pm

Warren, not sure I share your comfort on that. In my opinion conservative (small c) voters were indeed made by ensuring home ownership, some capital of their own, and then a family of their own. All these things naturally led to a person to move to a conservative position. But none of these things are happening to the same extent they used to, or at too late an age…and I think this is partly driving this problem we have.

Linda Payne

10th March 2020 at 1:41 pm

I wonder if Spiked could get hold of one of these bastions of censorship and interview them. It seems these faceless people weild enormous power over universities its about time they were made to justify themselves

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