A student union that banned a secularist speaker because she may offend Muslims has reversed its decision following public pressure.
The atheist society at Warwick University had applied to Warwick Students’ Union (SU) to allow them to host ex-Muslim and activist Maryam Namazie to speak about secularism at an event in October.
But Warwick SU refused the application, saying that Namazie could ‘insult’ religion and ‘incite hatred’.
Namazie fled from Iran with her family in 1980 after it was taken over by an Islamic Government, and she has been highly critical of the current so-called Islamic State.
A huge backlash from free speech campaigners and high-profile academics such as Professor Brian Cox led to Warwick SU changing its mind and issuing an apology.
A petition against the ban received over 5,000 signatures.
Warwick SU said its process for assessing external speakers had not been followed and gave assurances about its commitment to free speech.
The Christian Institute’s Colin Hart welcomed the U-turn as a step in the right direction for free speech.
“We are pleased that Warwick SU has seen sense and reversed its decision to curb freedom of expression at one of the very places where the exchange of ideas and opinions should be encouraged.
“Not everyone will agree with Maryam Namazie’s views, but to stop her from speaking is bordering on the totalitarian.
“We need to protect a democratic society where ideas, religions and philosophies can be criticised publicly.
“Hopefully other universities will take note of this incident and further free speech violations will be prevented.”
Speaking before her ban was reversed, Namazie told The Independent: “They’re basically labelling me a racist and an extremist for speaking out against Islam and Islamism”.
She said that people like her who have fled an Islamist regime should be able to speak out, because the only thing left to them is their freedom of expression.
“If anyone is inciting hatred, it’s the Islamists who are threatening people like me just for deciding we want to be atheist, just because we don’t want to toe the line.”
She added: “To try to censor me, does a double disservice to those people who are dissenting by denying people like me the only opportunity we have to speak.”
The National Secular Society also welcomed the decision, but added that they still have “grave concerns about an external speaker policy which says guests on campus must ‘avoid insulting other faiths’.”
“This is extremely broad and open to a wide variety of interpretations, and therefore extremely restrictive to freedom of speech.”
Last week a new campaign supported by The Christian Institute, the National Secular Society and the Peter Tatchell Foundation was launched to oppose the Government’s plans for Extremism Disruption Orders.
The website defendfreespeech.org.uk gives up-to-date information about the campaign, and helps people to contact their MP about the proposals.