Consistently no-platforming people could have a chilling effect on free speech on university campuses and should not take place, according to government guidance.
While student unions are free to choose whether or not to invite individual speakers, placing blanket bans on groups that hold a particular political view is likely to breach English and Welsh free speech laws, according to the guidance released on Saturday.
“Free speech is a value integral to the independence and innovation that embodies the higher education sector in the UK, fuelling academic thought and challenging injustice,” said the universities minister, Chris Skidmore.
The release of the guidance, which was drawn up by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), with help from the National Union of Students, the Home Office and a host of other bodies, comes amid a growing debate over free speech on campuses.
While it makes clear that a student union choosing not to invite a speaker because of their views is permissible, it says they should not ban such people from using their facilities altogether. And universities must not allow student complaints to censor course content. Exceptions are made for speech that breaks the law, including stirring up racial or religious hatred.
It reads: “Any decision about speakers and events should seek to promote and protect the right to freedom of expression.”
The guidance makes clear that people have the right to protest against speakers within the law. But it adds: “Protest should not be allowed to shut down debate or infringe the rights of others.”
It is true, and very much to the point, that women are objects, commodities, some deemed more expensive than others - but it is only by asserting one’s humanness every time, in all situations, that one becomes someone as opposed to something. That, after all, is the core of our struggle.
Andrea Dworkin, Woman Hating
Andrea Dworkin, Woman Hating
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