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A university has been accused of ‘thought policing’ and censorship by a newspaper columnist whose talk was delayed because it coincided with a celebration of the LGBT+ community.
Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens was due to speak at the University of Portsmouth on February 12, but the university’s Students’ Union announced that the event will be delayed due to concerns that his views “are not necessarily aligned with the Students’ Union’s vibrant celebration of the LGBT+ community this month”.
Mr Hitchens wrote on Twitter: “Thought Police alert: Portsmouth University Students’ Union have “postponed” a meeting I was due address next Tuesday, because my opinions are unacceptable.
“Poor old Pompey has suffered so much in defence of English freedom, and this is how it all ends,’ he wrote on Twitter.”
He added: “Censorship and thought policing are the future. Our schools teach their pupils what to think, not how to think. So they are afraid of dissent, and – given the power to do so – rush to silence it.
“Heaven help us when these people come into government, law and media in large numbers.”
The Students’ Union said it wanted to make it clear there was no suggestion or inference that the talk scheduled for February 12 was “aligned to any views previously published by Peter Hitchens or the LGBT+ community” and said it welcomes guest speakers from a variety of backgrounds and a variety of views to encourage strong debate and ensure freedom of speech on campus.
Union President Violet Karapaseva said: “We are committed to ensuring freedom of speech on the University of Portsmouth campus, however recognise that the timing of the scheduled event and the speaker’s previously published views do not align with our current celebration of the LGBT+ community.”
Concerns over threats to freedom of speech at British universities saw guidance issued by the government last week aimed at making sure university campuses remain a “forum for open and robust enquiry”.
The guidance prompted Trevor Phillips, former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, to warn vice-chancellors were acting like “frightened children” and a no-platforming policy drawn in up the 1970s was being used to ban controversial views.
He said: “People use what was originally a protective proposition to damn others with whom they disagree.
“The debate becomes not the most persuasive argument but who can gather the loudest shouting voices.”