Bishop Keenan praises move to protect free speech at universities

Bishop John Keenan of Paisley has praised an announcement that from April this year a new regulator will be established and have the power to fine, suspend or deregister universities that fail to uphold the right to free speech.

The Office for Students is to be set up by the UK Government after Universities Minister Jo Johnson recently said that ‘no platforming’, where groups or speakers are banned from debating at universities if their views are deemed to be offensive or unacceptable, is stifling debate. He said, “In universities in America and worryingly the in the UK, we have seen examples of groups seeking to stifle those who do not agree with them….Young people should have the resilience and confidence to challenge controversial opinions.”

Bishop Keenan, responding to the news, said, “I am glad to see this announcement that universities will be held to account when they ban groups like pro-life, from campus on the pretext of protecting other students’ feelings and wellbeing. It seems that all you have to do nowadays is to talk about your own particular set of victims being hurt by your opponent’s ideas in order to censor any opinions you do not like from the public square.”

He added that, “Maybe the mask of this political tactic is beginning to slip and we are returning to the norm that authentic free speech does not set out to victimise anyone and so should not be taken too personally.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is also drawing up new guidance telling university bosses to clamp down on those who restrict free speech. The commission’s chief executive Rachel Hilsenrath said that restricting free speech on campus risks “creating a generation of students who can’t challenge opinions or think for themselves.”

The Daily Mail reports that a recent survey found that 90% of UK universities have restricted free speech.

In Scotland, the University of Strathclyde banned pro-life students from affiliation to the students’ association in 2016.


Read more on this at the Scottish Catholic Observer by clicking this link