Jesus would be banned from UK universities: Oxford prof

Counter terrorism law and a trend of student “safe spaces” would see Jesus Christ banned from speaking at UK universities today, an Oxford professor says.

Professor Timothy Garton Ash, a professor of European Studies, made this comment while warning that universities must “hold the line” against the “salami slicing” of free speech.

At a festival in Wales, he was promoting his book titled “Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World”.

He noted threats to the tradition of free speech in universities coming from above from the Government and from below in the form of students’ sensitivities.

Professor Garton Ash said UK universities are now encouraged by counter-terrorism legislation to block even non-violent extremists from appearing on site.

This comes in the form of a “prevent duty” aimed at stopping radicalisation of vulnerable students.

At the same time, a number of UK universities now pledge to create a “safe space’ for their students.

This is inspired by similar policies in the US, in order to protect students from language or behaviour which could be considered offensive or threatening.

But Professor Garton Ash said he had noticed an increasing trend for a small number of offended individuals to be able to shut debate down on campus.

He described this as a “subjective veto act”.

With regard to “prevent duties”, he said historic figures like Marx, Hegel, Darwin, Rousseau and “definitely Jesus Christ” could be considered “non-violent extremists” today.

“The Home Office wouldn’t want [Jesus] preaching on campus.

“This is a real threat I think to free speech and one we have to fight back against.”

While student concerns must be listened to, universities have to fight to hold the line, he said.

A Home Office spokesman said that the law states that, in complying with prevent duties, universities must have particular regard to their duty to ensure freedom of speech and academic freedom.

“In many cases, complying with the prevent duty is as simple as ensuring there is an effective chair and a strong opposition voice,” the spokesman said.

In November last year, Oxford University cancelled an abortion debate after female students complained they would be offended by a man being on a panel.


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