Students told not to ban speakers for ‘transphobia’ The Times 02.02.19

The original article is here.

Feminists who believe that transgender women are still men should not be barred from speaking at universities because their views do not break the law, students have been told.

A 51-page set of guidelines also informs students that views that “offend, shock or disturb others” are not grounds to prevent someone expressing them. Concerns have been raised that free speech at universities is being restricted because groups have deemed that some opinions are too offensive to be heard or amount to hate speech.

The guidance says that peaceful protests at events are a healthy part of debate but that they cannot be allowed to stop events taking place, “shut down debate or infringe the rights of others”.

It also says that student complaints about lecturers should not limit academic freedom or lead to self-censorship. The guidance has been written by the Equality and Human Rights Commission with the National Union of Students and university leaders.

The guidance says that hate speech has “no legal meaning. The criminal law balances the right to freedom of expression with the protection of individuals and communities from threats, abuse and harassment both on and offline. Where this line is crossed, the perpetrator may be prosecuted.”

Universities have struggled most with the issue of transsexual rights. Linda Bellos, a feminist, has had invitations to speak revoked, and there have been attempts to stop Germaine Greer speaking. In November Dame Jenni Murray, the broadcaster, pulled out of an event at the Oxford University History Society after demonstrations were threatened. All have been accused of transphobia for expressing the view that trans women cannot lay claim to full womanhood. The guidance makes clear that this view is “lawful” and that a decision to “no-platform” the speaker or revoke an invitation would breach their right to free speech and that of students to “receive ideas”.

Trigger warnings to signal that lectures or materials may include scenes or references to sexual contact are lawful and do not undermine free speech.

The anti-extremism Prevent programme has been invoked to prevent Islamic speakers. The guidance says: “When considering speakers who express extremist ideas, providers should be mindful that the Prevent duty and guidance are only relevant if there is a risk of people being drawn into terrorism.”

Sir Michael Barber, chairman of the Office for Students, welcomed the “important and timely guidance”.

“Freedom of speech is one of our most cherished values, and our higher education system should be at the forefront of its promotion and protection,” he said. “A key part of a quality higher-education experience should be that students debate opinions and ways of thinking which may be different to their own. This guidance ensures that universities and student unions are clear on their responsibilities.”

Chris Skidmore, the universities minister, said: “Free speech is a value integral to . . . the higher education sector in the UK, fuelling academic thought and challenging injustice. This guidance is a symbol of the commitment to protecting freedom of speech.”

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