A new effort to protect free speech has been launched in the United Kingdom, where the Magna Carta, the iconic charter of liberty, was created.
The U.K.’s minister for universities and science, Conservative MP Jo Johnson, is warning that universities that fail to protect free speech for students will face fines, BBC News reported.
And a new regulator, the Office for Students, has been given authority to punish any university that stifles legitimate debate.
Johnson cited the climate of repression on American campuses as something to be avoided.
“In universities in America and worryingly in the U.K., we have seen examples of groups seeking to stifle those who do not agree with them,” Johnson said. “We must not allow this to happen. Young people should have the resilience and confidence to challenge controversial opinions and take part in open, frank and rigorous discussions.”
Johnson, the brother of well-known British politician and journalist Boris Johnson, argues restrictions on free speech create a stultifying effect on the pursuit of knowledge. He claimed if universities are not required to protect free speech, “we will soon be on a slippery slope that ends up with a society that is less able to make scientific breakthroughs, less able to be innovative and frankly less able also to resist injustice.”
Johnson identified the tactic of “no-platforming,” in which controversial speakers are simply prohibited from speaking, as particularly problematic.
“Other manifestations of this erosion [exist] in the form of removing certain books from libraries and the drawing up a list of extensive lists of trigger words that are undermining the principle of free speech in our universities,” Johnson said.
Johnson, the Times of Israel reported, also addressed the rising anti-Semitism at British universities.
“A racist and anti-Semitic environment is by definition an illiberal one that is totally antithetical to the idea of a university in a free society,” he said.
A recent survey of British Jews found more than 80 percent believed the left-wing Labour Party was harboring anti-Semites. A Europe-wide survey on anti-Semitism found a strong plurality of those who experienced an anti-Semitic attack identified the perpetrator as a Muslim.
British Jewish students have called for protection after pro-Israel events have been violently disrupted by pro-Palestinian students.
Johnson’s plan for protecting free speech has met with some opposition, with columnist Stephen Bush calling the problem “imaginary.”
However, what is truly striking about Johnson’s speech effort is how even foreign leaders now look to America not as an inspiration but as a cautionary tale.
Violent attempts to prevent conservatives from speaking have also become a staple of campus life, with libertarian scholar Charles Murray assaulted in March 2017 as part of an attack that left a female professor in a neck brace.
American campuses have also hosted overtly anti-white courses, events and professors, leading to conservative columnist Ann Coulter calling higher education “no-go zones” for white men.
But like Johnson in the U.K., the Trump administration has taken action to protect free speech on American campuses. The Department of Justice recently filed a statement of interest warning schools must protect free speech and allow students to express their faith openly on campus. President Trump has also threatened to withdraw federal funding from schools that do not protect freedom of expression for campus speakers.