Freedom of speech

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It was wise for the University of Edinburgh to drop its so-called gagging clause about statements made by its students’ association, EUSA (your report, 22 October). Arguably, it was a pointless gesture in the first place.

The university administration ought to have a public relations machine capable of refuting any outrageous statements made by representatives of the student body.

But I want to call into question some of Tiffany Jenkins’ arguments about restrictions on freedom of speech (Perspective, same edition).

A largely well-argued case was spoiled by her simplistic suggestion that staff and students in universities, people on trains and men watching football “should be free to say and think what they like”. Really?

On that basis we would have made no progress in largely eliminating racist chanting on terraces and stands throughout the country.

Equally, it ought to be possible for men and women to travel on public transport free from the fear of having to listen to and endure divisive, foul-mouthed, harsh, provocative and sectarian language.

That sort of language cannot be justified in terms of freedom of speech. It damages freedom not just because it creates fear, it also discourages people from using an essential facility; it often provokes violent retaliation with all the discomfort and embarrassment that entails.

Getting the balance between free speech and protecting the dignity of others can never be easy.

Tiffany Jenkins ought to ask herself if we would have made any progress on better race relations and sexual equality if, over the decades, the language of the reactionaries had been allowed to go unchecked.

Bob Taylor

Shiel Court