As part of our work to protect and promote free speech and to counter hate speech and incitement towards violence, UJS provided oral evidence and a written submission to the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into free speech on campus.
UJS welcomes some encouraging comments and clarifications contained in the suggested guidance to protect free speech that the Joint Committee have published today. The full report ‘Freedom of Speech in Universities’ requires fuller reflection.
As Jewish students, Jewish Societies and Friends of Israel Societies have sadly been subject to their free speech being denied when protests become aggressive, we particularly appreciate the guidance that: “Protest is itself a legitimate expression of freedom of speech. However, protest must not shut down debate. Protesters who attempt to prevent viewpoints being heard infringe upon the rights of others. Student Unions, Universities and law enforcement must hold such people to account–and ensure that sufficient resources are in place to prevent protesters from blocking debate”.
After being at the forefront of the student movements’ efforts to ban violent fascists and racists from campuses over many decades, and following the updating of our policy on No Platform and Free Speech in recent years, UJS recognizes the Joint Committee’s efforts to balance protecting free speech with upholding the law to prohibit hate speech and incitement towards hatred or violence. As the guidance shared today highlights, it is already UK Law to curtail free speech to prohibit “Acts intended or likely to stir up hatred on grounds of race; religion; or sexual orientation”.
As the university sector and our peers in the student movement reflect further on the Joint Committee’s report and recommendations, UJS will continue to advise on and advance a sensible approach as informed by the policy decided by our members. UJS is ready to support the Office for Students should they develop a remit around protecting free speech and protecting minority groups from hatred and violence. Whilst processes can always be improved, we very much hope that broadly effective policies and procedures, such as External Speaker Guidelines, or other important components of earlier work in partnership with Universities UK and the National Union of Students, will not be overlooked.