Fire peo­ple for their be­liefs and we might all be out of a job

The Observer - - Comment & Analysis -

JohnFin­nis is a re­ac­tionary. His views are odi­ous. He be­lieves that ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is “never a valid, hu­manly ac­cept­able choice” and that mass im­mi­gra­tion con­sti­tutes “re­verse coloni­sa­tion”.

Fin­nis is also emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of law and le­gal phi­los­o­phy at Uni­ver­sity Col­lege, Ox­ford. Last week, stu­dents launched a pe­ti­tion to have him re­moved from teach­ing

for his “record of ex­tremely dis­crim­i­na­tory views against many groups of dis­ad­van­taged peo­ple”.

Crit­ics of the pe­ti­tion have re­sponded by sug­gest­ing that, as fel­low Ox­ford law pro­fes­sor Les Green put it, to fire Fin­nis “solely on the ba­sis that he de­fends false or re­pug­nant views is a clear vi­o­la­tion of aca­demic free­dom”. The pe­ti­tion’s au­thors, Alex Benn and Daniel Tay­lor, dis­miss such ar­gu­ments as “sim­plis­tic”. Fin­nis may not dis­crim­i­nate against gay peo­ple, or be abu­sive to them in class, but LGBTQ+ stu­dents who

know his views “may be in­tim­i­dated, stop con­tribut­ing and learn less ef­fec­tively”. Plu­ral so­ci­eties, they in­sist, must nec­es­sar­ily limit the aca­demic free­dom of aca­demics es­pous­ing “dis­crim­i­na­tory” views.

Think, how­ever, about the logic of this ar­gu­ment. Should Or­tho­dox Mus­lims, whose views on ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity may not be that dif­fer­ent from Fin­nis’s, also be barred from teach­ing be­cause their be­liefs may cause anx­i­ety to LGBTQ+ stu­dents? Should Jewish stu­dents have the right to call for the re­moval of an aca­demic who

sup­ports the BDS boy­cott of Is­rael that many re­gard as an­ti­semitic? Should athe­ist aca­demics who hold that the world would be a bet­ter place were re­li­gion (and hence be­liev­ers) not to ex­ist be re­moved if re­li­gious stu­dents feel “in­tim­i­dated, stop con­tribut­ing” and the rest?

In a plu­ral so­ci­ety, it’s not just re­ac­tionar­ies such as Fin­nis whose views stu­dents might find of­fen­sive. And once we start sack­ing peo­ple for their be­liefs, it will not just be re­ac­tionar­ies who’ll lose their jobs. In­deed, this is al­ready the case. It’s a not a trend we should en­cour­age.

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