Oxford University students launch petition calling for top law professor’s removal over alleged homophobia

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By Polly Botsford on

Legal Twitterati condemns ‘snowflake students’

John Finnis

Over 400 students have petitioned to remove a well-known legal philosopher, John Finnis, emeritus professor of law and legal philosophy at Oxford University, from his post on the grounds of his alleged anti-gay and discriminatory writings.

The petition on the Change.org website states that Professor Finnis has “a long record of extremely discriminatory views against many groups of disadvantaged people.” It continues:

“He is known for being particularly homophobic and transphobic. He has even advised the US state government not to provide legal protection for LGBTQ+ people who suffer discrimination.”

The petition gives examples such as Finnis’ Collected Essays published in 2011 that include extracts from his writings from 1994 where he wrote about homosexuality.

In his defence, Professor Finnis, who converted to Catholicism in the 1960s, told The Oxford Student:

“The petition travesties my position, and my testimony in American constitutional litigation. Anyone who consults the Law Faculty website and follows the links in the petition can see the petition’s many errors. I stand by all these writings. There is not a ‘phobic’ sentence in them. The 1994 essay promotes a classical and strictly philosophical moral critique of all non-marital sex acts and has been republished many times, most recently by Oxford University Press in the third volume of my Collected Essays.”

A number of law academics and law writers have spoken out against the petition on social media. David Allen Green, solicitor and legal commentator, took to Twitter as the story broke in the national press.

In another tweet, Jon Holbrook, a barrister and law writer, attacked the “snowflake” generation for launching such a petition.

The petition also directed its ire at Oxford University itself and asked it “to clarify its official position on professors who have expressed discriminatory views and behaved in discriminatory ways, especially those who have shown obvious hatred and intolerance.”

This comes at a time when debates about free speech in universities amongst both academics and students continues to rage. In the past, students have tried to ban certain controversial figures from speaking such as Germaine Greer who faced a ban from students at Cardiff University due to her alleged transphobic views. “No-platforming” on campus has in turn been criticised for flouting free speech laws.

A spokesperson for Oxford University said:

“Oxford University and the Faculty of Law promote an inclusive culture which respects the rights and dignity of all staff and students. We are clear we do not tolerate any form of harassment of individuals on any grounds, including sexual orientation. Equally, the University’s harassment policy also protects academic freedom of speech and is clear that vigorous academic debate does not amount to harassment when conducted respectfully and without violating the dignity of others. All of the University’s teaching activity, including that in the Faculty of Law, is conducted according to these principles.”

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