Picture credit: Christian Concern
Artillery Row

My fight for free speech goes on

Or else this precedent could silence dissent

I gave evidence at the employment tribunal for three days. I have a clear and distinct memory of it. It’s not the kind of thing one forgets in a hurry. 

Reading the judgement of the tribunal, you’d hardly think that Employment Judge Victoria Butler heard a single word I said. I kept thinking, “She’ll mention my evidence in a moment, and give an evaluation.” It didn’t happen. Despite saying the tribunal “had the privilege of finding all the witnesses to be honest and credible”, the rigorous analysis of both sides seemed entirely absent. I acknowledge I’m not impartial, but there’s one-sided and then there’s giving the impression that one team hardly even turned up for the match.

This might seem like sour grapes, though I honestly don’t think it is. We know that in the case of Maya Forstater, the first judge got the law astonishingly wrong on gender critical beliefs, but the Employment Appeal tribunal was much more fair-minded. So, as I plan my appeal, I have reason to hope. One example, trivial in itself, of evidence not heard, is that the ruling says that the pupil question (“How come we’re told we have to accept all this LGBT stuff in a Christian school?”) was asked by a Year 10 pupil “in a religious studies lesson”. I have never taught Year 10 Religious Studies or anything else, and I said so in evidence. The question was at the end of a philosophy club that I ran. The tribunal heard much discussion of this. A minor detail perhaps, but if Judge Butler got that wrong, to what else was she indifferent?

She stated, for example, that the pupils “had not expressed any issues with E&C”. E&C is “Educate and Celebrate”, the Queer Theory-laden programme at the heart of the case, the one which had teachers chanting the need to “Smash heteronormativity”. Quite innocuous, according to Judge Butler. As to, “not expressed any issues”, I refer you, dear reader, to the pupil question above, which sparked my sermon on freedom of conscience.

Freedom of conscience, and freedom of speech, are the reasons why the fight must go on, and why my case remains important.

One of the striking features of the case, to me at least, is that the ruling acknowledges that the school, Trent College near Nottingham, has the objective of education in accordance with the Protestant and Evangelical principles of the Church of England, clearly stated in the (legally binding) articles of association, but this document “does not define what those principles are”. As Judge Butler does not understand the principles of the Church of England, which were once common knowledge, she proceeded to entirely ignore them.

It’s not as if significant evidence were before her about what the Church of England teaches on the matters under consideration. It’s not as if there were a clergyman giving evidence that she might ask for clarification. Oh, no, wait, there was, on both counts. This goes to the often-lamented religious illiteracy of those who hold the levers of power in our society. I don’t blame Judge Butler personally for this, but it is hard to see how religious freedom can be preserved in such legal cases when religion itself is an alien concept to judges.

An example of this can be seen when she says that when I used expressions like “you may perfectly properly believe” this “goes way beyond the teaching of a particular perspective and in our view, amounted to an intent to persuade pupils to agree with [my] views”. Heaven forbid! A sermon, in a Church school, encouraging Christian beliefs. What is the world coming to? If you don’t know the difference between a chapel and a classroom, that is what you get.

Even more worrying than this, is the damage to free speech if this ruling stands. It is a well-established principle of human rights law that upset or distress on the part of a listener is not any reason to curb free speech. The school made much of the upset caused in deciding to dismiss me. Now, I think that was much exaggerated, but be that as it may, it is not a permissible reason to infringe fundamental human rights.

By the time of the tribunal, distress had morphed into causing “harm.” Harm matters, because safeguarding, don’t you know? Yet, what is the objective difference between distress and harm when it comes to hearing a sermon? None that I can discern. From now on, any of the Wokesters who want to close down speech they don’t like (because, after all, words are literal violence) will simply say, not “I was offended”, but “I was harmed”. They will cite Randall v Trent College to silence dissent. It may not have escaped your notice that the Woke are not shy about claiming such victim status. Judge Butler swallowed it, hook, line and sinker.

This cannot be a precedent which is allowed to stand. The fight must go on.

(Sadly, that isn’t cheap – help is gratefully received.)

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