'There is no legal right not to be offended' says Christian MP about university free speech

The joint committee on human rights has written a report detailing the ways in which universities limit freedom of speech.

The MPs cite factors like ’no platforming’ and ‘safe spaces’ as limits on legal speech, as well as confusion around the Prevent programme and unnecessary red tape in organising external speakers.

On this committee is Conservative MP for Congleton and Christian, Fiona Bruce. Explaining why they decided to look into the issue of free speech, she told Premier: “We‘d heard very concerning reports of student groups being prevented from inviting speakers, meeting, or even students themselves feeling they can’t talk about issues that, while they might be minority views - they might be views which the student union officers disagreed with – were none the less lawful.”

The report highlights that many groups had events cancelled or guests banned because their views were considered insulting, albeit legal. 

“University should a place where ideas can be explored”, Fiona Bruce said, “free speech is so important, it’s important from my perspective as a parliamentarian, to protect and preserve democracy, so we need to ensure students, very importantly, honour and respect the freedom of others.

When asked about times when people might be offended Bruce said: “There is no legal right not to be offended, people can say things which might offend others but if they don’t, for example, go as far as to incite violence or terrorism under the Prevent legislation then that speech is lawful."

She explained that there was often confusion over what was allowed: "We had evidence of students who cancelled an event which was to be a Q and A with a Syrian refugee because they were worried about falling foul of this type of legislation."

In another example, "we heard disturbing evidence from pro-life students...that they had difficulties at several universities getting stalls at fresher’s fairs, that at one university a motion was passed by the student union never to provide a platform for pro-life groups."

The joint committee on human rights are now calling on universities to do more to help students understand their legal rights with regards to free speech and apply them. 

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