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UK News

Christian advocacy group accuses Gov of diluting free speech bill designed to stop censorship at universities

by Tola Mbakwe

A Christian advocacy group has accused the UK Government of dialling down a bill that is supposed to protect freedom of speech at universities. 

This week, the Government tabled amendments in the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill which would make it harder for students or academics to sue their university if their right to freedom of speech was violated. 

The new proposals would require students to only seek compensation as a last resort, after going through other complaints processes with the university and then the higher education regulator.
They would also have to prove they had suffered loss. 

Tim Dieppe, head of public policy at Christian Concern, told Premier Christian News the amendments weaken the intention of the Bill : 

"I think that you need to be able to have the sort of arm of the law coming in saying 'she must be allowed to say this, he must be allowed to say this, and you, university. can't do that'.

"And if you have to sort of go through a whole load of other processes first and try and complain to other people, and then show pecuniary loss as well, it becomes quite difficult. It basically waters down the Bill very significantly."

Currently, people can request for a judicial review if their freedom of speech has been breached. However, the process has proven to be too costly for many students and academics. 

The tabled amendments come after Tory peers expressed concerns that the law would leave universities financially vulnerable as people could easily sue them. 

A Government spokesman told The Telegraph in a statement:  "All the core provisions of the Bill remain as they have always been, to strengthen protections for freedom of speech in higher education".

Dieppe told Premier that a strong law protecting freedom of speech is desperately needed as Christianity is increasingly being censored and attacked on university campuses : 

"I think that very often it is people with Christian views or Christian-like views that do get hassled or harassed, or sometimes no-platformed at universities. 

"Pro-life groups at universities have been a case in point on this. We've had to bring legal cases on behalf of one or two pro-life groups at universities that have been harassed or in one case been thrown out of the Student Union just for their views, and people being very, very intolerant towards their views. 

"We've had cases of Christian speakers where universities or student unions have objected to what they're going to say or had tried to sort of make it very difficult to invite them and attempted to sort of get them no-platformed. 

"And obviously people who take a conservative view on transgenderism are targeted very significantly at universities at the moment and that's why people are obviously self-censoring their views."

The Bill will go to the House of Lords next week for the reports stage. 

Listen to Premier's interview with Tim Dieppe here: 

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