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U.K. Education Secretary: Prioritizing ‘Emotional Safety’ Over Free Speech Is ‘Dangerous’
Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson, Conservative Party MP for South Staffordshire, walks along Downing Street in London, England, on January 27, 2021.
David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In a report on free speech in higher education, the U.K. Secretary of State for Education decried the chilling effects of “cancel culture” on free speech.

At the beginning of a free speech report presented to Parliament, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson penned a letter dubbing the current culture of “emotional safety” to be counterproductive. “There are some in our society who prioritize ‘emotional safety’ over free speech, or who equate speech with violence. This is both misguided and dangerous,” Williamson said.

The report cites a study from King’s College in London that found that a quarter of students see violence as an acceptable response to speech they dislike. The same study found that 59 percent of “Conservative-supporting” students said that they were reluctant to share their views on campus.

Williamson claims that British society has turned a “blind eye” to the “creeping culture of censorship.” “A culture has been allowed to develop in which it is seen as acceptable, even virtuous, for an academic to sign an open letter that calls for another to be dismissed or defunded,” he wrote.

The report breaks down new laws that the education department believes will champion a newfound culture of free speech. The laws will provide a new legal avenue for those who have faced retribution for their speech, will widen and enhance academic freedom protections, and will require universities to set high standards for free speech codes.

A growing body of evidence has shown that the current “cancel culture” is having a “chilling effect” on students and staff at universities who feel unable to express religious and political views without fear of retribution. The report also cites evidence that a minority of students and academics are having a disproportionate influence on censoring campus speech.

In response to the report, the nation’s largest student union organization, The National Union of Students, said that there is “no evidence” of a free speech crisis on campuses.

The union’s response appears antithetical to the many high-profile “cancelations” of professors and students, some of whom hold moderate-to-left-wing viewpoints.

Selina Todd, a history professor at Oxford University, faced online threats and was uninvited to appear at the Oxford International Women’s Festival after transgender activists pushed to have her removed for “transphobic” comments. Jo Phoenix, a criminology professor at Open University, had a lecture at Essex University canceled by trans activists as well. The activists accused Phoenix of being a “transphobe” for citing the safety concerns of putting trans women, who are biological men, in the same prisons as women.

Other examples include Professor Noah Carl and Felix Ngole. Carl was dismissed as a research fellow at St. Edmund’s College in Cambridge after sustained attacks from a politically-correct mob who disliked his articles expressing right-wing dogma on issues of race and immigration.

Ngole was a social work student at Sheffield University. He was removed from his class after a peer snitched on him for saying that “the Bible and God identify homosexuality as a sin.”

Williamson issued a final warning to those actively working to perpetuate cancel culture while denying its existence.

“Those who have never known authorities that were not broadly aligned to their values should be more cautious: today’s orthodoxy can become tomorrow’s oppression, and powers granted today to silence ideological opponents will inevitably be turned against them in the future.”

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