BRITAIN’S attitude to free speech is so feeble that even Jesus would be banned from preaching on university campuses, according a top Oxford academic.
Leading professor Timothy Garton Ash said a combination of barmy Home Office legislation and trigger-happy student activists had led to our right to freedom of expression “being salami-sliced away”.
The farcical situation comes despite Britain having played a part in inventing free speech, said the professor.
He told an audience at the Hay Festival that the government’s punitive security legislation meant that “non-violent extremists” such as Jesus and Charles Darwin would be blacklisted today.
He said: “Some of you may know that in the new counter-terrorism legislation, the securocrats in the Home Office are trying to impose on universities a so-called prevent duty, which would call on us to prevent event non-violent extremists.
“Now non-violent extremists? That’s Karl Marx, Rousseau, Charles Darwin, Hegel, and most clearly Jesus Christ, who was definitely a non-violent extremist.
“The Home Office wouldn’t want him preaching on campus.”
The expert historian added that censorious students’ demands for “so-called safe spaces” also posed a serious threat to free speech.
He said: “We have a big problem at the moment in our universities, because on the one hand we’re under attack from our government like I said.
“And on the other hand there’s a certain push from below from our own students demanding so-called safe spaces.”
“It’s one group of students censoring another.”
The Oxford don’s passionate takedown of the student anti-free speech lobby comes just days after the university’s vice-chancellor said “cosseted” young campaigners at the university should be exposed to more extreme views.
Professor Louise Richardson said: “When I was a student in the 1970s there were chants of ‘no free speech for fascists’ and so on but my view of course is that a university is exactly where you should hear these views and part of education is about hearing them and countering them reasonably.”