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Student Union to condemn Oxford Union for controversial speakers

The Student Council has passed a motion mandating the SU condemn the Oxford Union for inviting Ben Shapiro, Katie Hopkins, and Charlie Kirk.

The motion comes just months after Kathleen Stock’s controversial Oxford Union visit last Trinity term. In the leadup to the event, the SU removed a statement published by the SU LGBTQ Campaign which called for rescinding Stock’s invitation. According to the SU, the decision was made “over fears the statement may have been in breach of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023.”

The most recent motion on Shapiro, Hopkins, and Kirk stated that the views of the three Oxford Union speakers were “repulsive and not worthy of respect in any reasonable society,” devoting a paragraph to each of the speakers and their controversial statements. 

Among the included quotes from Ben Shapiro was his claim that “Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage.” Katie Hopkins was criticised for a tweet that stated “Gypsies are ferrel [sic] humans—we have no duty to them.” The third and final speaker in the motion, Charlie Kirk, was reproached by the SU for promoting inflammatory conspiracy theories and referring to George Floyd as a “scumbag.”

The Student Council also resolved to mandate SU Sabbatical Officers publicly support any protests against Union invitations of Shapiro, Kirk, or Hopkins. While the Student Council clarified that this public support did not imply the Sabbatical Officers had to attend the protests themselves, it indicated that the required support would “include, but not be limited to, the sharing of the details of any such planned protests which the SU or its sabbatical officers are informed of, within one working day of being informed of such protest.”

The Student Council furnished members with an appendix including a draft for the condemnation that would be released on social media. The draft included much of the material covered in the resolution, but it also drew a distinction between supporting free speech and providing a prominent platform to speakers with objectionable views: “We believe that the right to free speech should not be used to actively harm marginalised groups, and that these views may amount to hate speech. 

“The right to free speech does not equate to the right to a platform, especially one this exclusive, where the right to challenge these views costs up to £350 [referring to the Oxford Union membership dues].”

The Student Council concluded the condemnation draft by addressing the Higher Education Freedom of Speech Act passed in June 2023: “As a student union we would like to speak freely on our views around this subject but one of the consequences of the interpretations of the new Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act, perversely, means that we may not be able to. 

“Instead we will condemn this ‘bastion of freedom of free speech’ [The Oxford Union] not standing up for our own and implore them to actually be that bastion. Platform marginalised voices and activism, actually show opinions that the media often shoot down and trivialise, let marginalised voices be heard, beyond a context where we have to fight for our right to exist. 

“In addition to condemning the views of Ben Shapiro, Katie Hopkins, and Charlie Kirk and their invitation to the Oxford Union, we condemn the government’s introduction of the Higher Education Act and call for it to be repealed immediately, as the act is in fact, in our belief, a crackdown on freedom of speech.”

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