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British Universities Must Retake Their Free Speech Rights

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Universities must be the place for the instigation of free speech and free information circulation. In a talk in Birmingham, the British MP Jo Johnson asserted that universities must be places to “open minds, not close them”.

The Orpington MP also explained that the students must be able to be active on different social and political arenas without being worried about their security. Students must be able to challenge controversial opinions, according to the universities minister, who says there are dangers to shielding students from differing views under the banner of “no-platforming” or “safe spaces”.

Universities that fail to protect free speech could face fines. According to the Press Association,  in a speech later today at the Limmud Festival, a celebration of Jewish learning and culture, Johnson will argue that free speech is a key part of university life.

Universities should be places that open minds, not close them, where ideas can be freely challenged. In universities in America and worryingly in the UK, we have seen examples of groups seeking to stifle those who do not agree with them.

His comments come amid an ongoing debate about free speech at universities, and a number of reports of speakers, debates, literature and organizations being opposed or criticized, often by student unions, societies or particular groups of students.

Johnson said that institutions must ensure there is no place for hatred, discrimination, extremism or racism. “A racist or anti-Semitic environment is by definition an illiberal one that is completely in opposition the liberal tradition of our universities,” he told the festival.

The reality of the free speech circumstance in British society and universities, however, makes concerns about the future of state oppressive force against any form of criticism. The Universities have been silenced more and more for more than a decade, and specially following controversies over Brexit, and the continuation of this suppression may lead to more autocratic governance across the UK.

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