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Free speech champion “greatly concerned” by discrimination reports

The Catholic Union recently met the new Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom from the Office for Students.

Professor Arif Ahmed was appointed to the new role in June this year as part of a range of measures contained in the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act designed to protect and promote free speech at universities.

The Catholic Union requested the meeting in the summer to highlight concerns from Catholic students, academics, and staff that freedom of religion and belief are not being taken seriously by universities and student unions.

Director, Nigel Parker, and Deputy Director, James Somerville-Meikle, summarised the results from a recent Catholic Union survey which found that almost 1 in 3 responders had faced disadvantage at work because of their faith and half of people said they did not feel able to talk about their faith openly with colleagues.

Professor Arif said the findings were of “great concern” and added that it was “really important that people can express legitimate views [at university].”

A new complaints scheme for infringements of free speech, such as no-platforming of speakers, should be in place by August 2024 with a consultation on the scheme due to be launched later this year.

The Catholic Union is working with the Catholic Student Network to provide the Office for Students with case studies and evidence of free speech concerns involving Catholic Societies.

Catholic Union Deputy Director, James Somerville-Meikle, comments: “Universities are incredibly important places. They form the minds of young and old alike. St John Henry Newman said that universities should develop the ‘general powers of the mind’ and yet too often today we see free speech and legitimate views shut down or undermined. It’s encouraging to hear that the Government’s new free speech champion recognises the particular challenges facing Catholics on campus. We’re determined to make sure that the new complaints scheme deals with complaints fairly and quickly. We also need to promote a culture on campus where free speech is encouraged. The Catholic Union will do everything we can to help bring this about.”