If free speech is to exist at all, people ought to be free to speak at all times; if a right can be put ‘on hold’, it isn’t really a right at all.
Not according to the University of Portsmouth, supposedly a space for thought and the exchange of beliefs, which two days ago cancelled a talk by Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens, set to take place next week.
The University’s Student’s Union (U.P.S.U.) explained that the cancellation was necessary as ‘the published views of Peter Hitchens are not necessarily aligned with [its] vibrant celebration of the LGBT+ community this month.’
In other words, the Union disapproves of (or gave in to those who disapprove of) Mr. Hitchens’ views and is uninterested in the freedom of speech when it comes to those with whom they disagree.
‘Postpone’ was the word used by the Union, rather than cancel. That isn’t how free speech works; again, it can’t simply be put ‘on hold’. In any case, another excuse would likely have been plucked out of the air if the event were rescheduled.
In preventing Mr. Hitchens from speaking, as he was set to do, on a range of issues at the University, the U.P.S.U. not only infringed on his freedom of speech but on the freedom of speech generally for this is not a freedom or a right at all unless it is available to all. It also prevented those who disagree with Mr. Hitchens (I’m sure there will have been many!) from challenging his views.
This isn’t the first time (and surely won’t be the last) Mr. Hitchens has run into trouble with a university over the freedom of speech. Late in 2017, he was forced to deliver a speech to students whilst standing on a bench outside the premises of Liverpool University after refusing its Student Guild’s demands to see his speech in advance of the event, to warn the police of said event and to record the names of those in attendance. What was the purpose of these measures, other than to limit Mr. Hitchens’ freedom of speech?
The Twitter Mob, responding to Mr. Hitchens’ (correct) claim that he had been ‘censored’ by the University of Portsmouth’s Student’s Union, accused him of ‘complaining’ and of being ‘offended’. ‘I am not protesting on *my* behalf,’ Mr Hitchens points out; ‘I can cope. It is freedom of speech, thought, expression and assembly that I worry about.’
‘It’s not really I who have been silenced. The principle of freedom of thought, speech and assembly has been attacked by those who in ten or 20 years will be helping to run this country. They need to learn how to be free. Soon.’