Bishop of Coventry on Freedom of Speech in Universities

On 28th June 2022 the House of Lords debated the Government’s Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, at its Second Reading. The Bishop of Coventry spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, intense competition for students, jostling for promotion among lecturers, vigorous, often intense and sometimes rancorous debate, with dashes of sharp practice and occasional mob violence—not a preview of some future Office for Students report but a snapshot of the early academic career of Augustine of Hippo. One of his first publications was advice to lecturers and, significantly for this debate, he later asserted that “By force we can make no one believe.” I will make some general points about the Bill and then raise three more specific issues.

Timothy Garton Ash speaks of three “vetoes” that silence the ability of people to express themselves: shouting them down, the “heckler’s veto”; declaring what they say to be offensive, the “offensive veto”; and, in extreme cases, threatening to kill people, the “assassin’s veto”.

Sadly, it seems that we have seen each of these techniques in action within higher education, as some of the evidence submitted to the Bill Committee demonstrated.

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