MPs and Peers have said that universities cannot be “safe spaces” from the free exchange of ideas, warning that university “red tape” and students’ attempts to shut down debate they oppose was leaving a “chilling effect” on free speech.
Calling freedom of speech at universities “vital”, chairman of the cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights Harriet Harman MP said that evidence “showed that there is a problem of inhibition of free speech in universities” and called for the defence of “freedom of expression”.
The report, published Tuesday, found that there were “serious barriers” limiting free speech on campus, including “intolerant attitudes” of student groups using the banner of “no platforming” and “safe-space” policies to shut down free speech; “unacceptable intimidation” by protestors; and “unnecessary bureaucracy” put on groups organising speaking events.
The report found that most “flashpoint” topics which triggered protests for censorship included pro-life debate, Israel, “transgender issues”, and right- and left-wing politics.
On the matter of intimidation, the report called masked protest, intimidatory filming, or physical disruption “unacceptable” and said that it must be stopped.
Student Union President Facing Impeachment for Pro-Life Views
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“The right to protest does not extend to stopping events entirely. Intimidating people exercising their free speech rights is particularly deplorable when meetings are invaded by masked protestors seeking to intimidate,” the report said.