LIVE: Free Speech Debate at Canterbury Christ Church University, Emma Thomson Reports:

Free speech is a topic that is surrounded by controversy. Tonight at Canterbury Christ Church University a debate on the topic will assess a number of key questions.

These include

  • To what extent should freedom of speech be regarded as an absolute value?
  • Is it possible to draw a clear distinction between speech and action?
  • What constitutes hate speech and should it be banned?

To discuss the questions we will be joined by four panellists.

  • John Gilmore-Kavanagh – Senior Lecturer at School of Nursing at Canterbury Christ Church University.
  • Claire Fox – Director of the Institute of Ideas, BBC Radio 4 Moral Maze panellist, author of ‘I Find that Offensive’.
  • Professor Mark Hammond – former CEO of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
  • Professor James Soderholm – Head of Humanities, Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys.

Dr. Jim Butcher of the School of Human and Life Sciences at Canterbury Christ church University is the organiser and co-ordinator of tonights debate along with Dr. Sarah Lieberman, also from the university, who is the co-chair.



Dr. Jim Butcher, a reader in the ‘School of Human and Life Sciences’, began the debate with introductions of the panelists and some ‘house rules’.


Panelist Claire Fox, Director of the Institute of Ideas, BBC Radio 4 Moral Maze panellist, author of ‘I Find that Offensive’, starts her time speaking by discussing President Donald Trump of the United States.  Fox discusses how Trump has asked the FBI to investigate pop icon Madonna, who recently said whilst marching against the president in the women marches “I thought an awful lot about thinking about blowing up the white house”, Fox  goes on to ask who actually thought she would do this, and says “We have a very low opinion of each other”.


Professor Mark Hammond, former CEO of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, starts of by discussing Freedom of speech and how very hard thought for. He goes on to discuss how a liberal democratic society cannot function without that right. Regarding students he says, “With protections in place, freedom of expression should be fully exercised”. The professor finished by saying “No one ever said freedom is easy”.


Professor James Soderholm  who is the head of Humanities, Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, started by reading out readings by the likes of Thomas Jefferson.

The professor then discussed the case if John Richards, a pensioner from Lincolnshire who emailed the police asking what would happen if he put a sign in a window saying ‘Religions are fairy tales for adults’. He also discusses the first amendment and “This country should hammer one out”.


John Gilmore-Kavanagh a Senior Lecturer at School of Nursing at Canterbury Christ Church University, starts by talking about rights and says “We are born with human rights”. He also says how “No one trumps another”.

Mr Gilmore-Kavanagh then discusses hate speech and says how “It is a deeply damaging and unique act”. He discusses how it needs to stop and continue to be challenged.


As all the panelists have had there chance to speak, the audience is given the chance to ask the panel members questions.

An audience member delves into what safe space is as it was brought up earlier by panelist Gilmore-Kavanagh.

Another audience members asks Gilmore-Kavanagh “What he thinks has enabled us to move on from slavery. “The least powerful people in society are the ones that need it the most”


The panel responds to the questions ask by the audience

John Gilmore-Kavanagh responds to the question regarding slavery. He discusses how when slavery was coming to an end slave owners where happy to give up the slaves because of the massive pay outs. In regard to safe spaces, Gilmore-Kavanagh says that he has concerns in regards to safe places going ahead.

Claire Fox, starts of by discussing  a point by John Gilmore-Kavanagh who had earlier said that hate speech needs to be monitored. She asks him who exactly would be doing the monitoring.

The mic was handed back to the audience members who asked the questions before to see if they would like to reply to anything that was said by the two panelists in response to there questions.


Professor Mark Hammond then goes on to discuss how the best way to challenge rubbish ideas is to get out there and challenge them.

Professor James Soderholm discusses how he does not agree with John Gilmore-Kavanagh that de-platforming is not a form of censorship.


The mic is then handed back to audience members for more questions.

One questions was asked regarding

Dr. Jim Butcher discusses how if we give the authorities the right to control speech we then cant turn round and say ‘but wait not in this case’.


The panel members then respond to the questions ask.

In response on  a self censorship question, Claire fox says she is nervous regarding it.


The mic is again handed back to the audience.

An audience member made a statement regarding censorship and who is offended by it. The audience member says that wrong people are offended.

A student then discusses how he personally hates safe spaces. and asks why someone should be able to say what he can or cannot hear.

A lecturer at the university talks about how freedom of expression will only take us so far.


In regards to platforms Claire Fox discusses how the platform rule is being used actively to stop people from going on to university campuses. Says how although she doesn’t like Katy Hopkins and doesn’t like what she has to say, that she still defends her free speech, because it is free speech. She went on to say how we hold on to the notion of our audience and ourselves.

More responses were given by the three fellow panellists.


A question relating to free speech and social media is asked by an audience member. The Audience member asks whether the rules of free speech need to be somewhat changed when regarding social media.

Claire Fox finishes the question time off by discussing how it is a real shame that particularly young people have been known as ‘generation snow flake’. She urges young people to reject the label of being needed to be protected.

Statements are made by a few more audience members, which receive replies from the panellists.

Dr. Sarah Lieberman thanks who was the co-chair for the debate along with Dr. Tim Butcher who organised the event thanks the panellists for speaking and also thanks the audience for attending.

In regard to how the event went Dr. Lieberman said “It went really well, audience participation went fantastic.

Dr. Lieberman said how free speech is an issue so important at the moment. The evening was a chance for people to delve deeper into what free speech really is and how it affects us and how it is used.


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