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

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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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63 Comments

Anonymous

Can they find anything but a couple of old academic essays they quote in the petition? If not – then where have they found this “a long record of extremely discriminatory views”?

(34)(4)

Anonymous

To be fair the ‘old’ essay was reprinted in 2011, so it’s not like they’ve dredged something up from the mists of time.

(7)(6)

Anonymous

True, but this still means that they waited for close to 8 years to complain about the offensive content. I would 100% route for them and sign this petition myself if it had a single example of him actually mistreating/discriminating a student based on their sexual orientation or views. Instead it only quotes 8-26 year old publications from the official journals (not same far right conspiracy web-site) and without any particular reason calls them “a long record of extremely discriminatory views”.

(26)(2)

Anonymous

I agree that only discrimination against a student/other individual is sacking worthy, and that academic speech should be protected. I don’t think the age of the works is relevant in this case though – all academics are judged on their publication record, and in this case he clearly stands by the articles (which are indeed pretty offensive imo).

(6)(4)

citylawyer1982

I was taught Moral and Political Philosophy by John Finnis over 10 years ago. I now work in the City. I also happen to be gay. In my view, John’s academic interest in homosexuality is heavily coloured by his faith; John is a very committed Roman Catholic. Although I find his views on homosexuality illogical and frankly, a little bizarre, I have never witnessed him treating any gay student – including myself – poorly less favourably. He was always willing to debate issues with his students.

John is also a great legal scholar with a first class mind; he is arguably Oxford’s greatest jurist since Hart. He is also a prominent international legal scholar and many universities all over the world would kill to have John join their faculties. If we are serious about having world class universities in this country with world class academics, academics should be judged on their talent and their research output. On that basis, John is eminently qualified to teach at Oxford.

This petition is ridiculous and suggests that academics should be judged – hired and fired – depending upon students’ views on their moral beliefs rather than their talent or academic quality. Not only would that seriously impair academic freedom in this country but it is also morally repugnant.

(180)(8)

Anonymous

“he is arguably Oxford’s greatest jurist since Hart.”

John Gardner would like a word.

(10)(2)

Anonymous

In Latin.

(9)(0)

oxonbarra123

I like John Gardner. But frankly, only John Gardner would think John Gardner is the greatest Jurist since HLA Hart.

(23)(0)

Anonymous

But have you checked out his sandwich recipes?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

So would Ronnie Dworkin.

(8)(1)

Anonymous

These pathetic snowflakes aren’t fit to lick Finnis’ boots.

(36)(5)

Anonymous

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson agrees with you and supports Finnis

FREE THE UNIV ONE!

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-6580695/Dwayne-Rock-Johnson-SLAMS-snowflake-generation-says-theyre-putting-back.html

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Dumbshit snowflakes are DISGRACING oxford! Everyone who signed that petition should be EXPELLED from the University!

(22)(15)

Ann

Try to get in first.

(10)(3)

Vintage Meme Squad

Who would win?

Chad professor: lifelong study + books + Deus pro nobis

Virgin generation: pissing on doors + change.org petitions ft unproven allegations

(34)(4)

On a different note

Right so what’s happening with blacker’s trial?

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Wow! Only three days behind the Daily Mail! Top, top, journalism, LC.

(4)(1)

Anonymous

His writings aren’t “allegedly” anti-gay, they are explicitly and openly anti-gay. I don’t agree he should be sacked though, and hope the university protects him. Freedom of academic speech is too important to sacrifice, even though in this case the students are correct that the guy is a bigot.

(19)(18)

Anonymous

This is the most ridiculous petition going. John Finnis is a world-leading, respected Roman Catholic legal professor.

His writing is informed, to a small degree, by his faith, but that is acceptable in a liberal society.

It is a really chilling attack on free speech.

The protest can go fish.

(39)(2)

Anonymous

I agree with your conclusion but would say that his writing is quite significantly dictated by his Catholicism.

(4)(2)

Anonymous

I feel sorry for Finnis

The man is a legend and his contribution to legal scholarship is enormous

He was probably expressing pretty normal right-of-centre views for the time, but has lived long enough to see his social views marginalised

Poor bloke

Let him be, he’s taught generations of students

It’s really not worth bothering an old man so some social justice warriors can feel self-righteous

(29)(4)

Anonymous

Aww his social view is being marginalised? How terrible for him, I’m sure that’s really hard and has caused him a life time of mental health problems, marginalisation and… oh wait no sorry that’s everyone else who isn’t a straight white man

(9)(35)

plucky comment bro, I'll give you that

Everyone who isn’t a white male is marginalised and has mental health problems?

(26)(1)

Anonymous

No. Only people who aren’t straight white males are entitled to feel marginalised and have mental health problems.

(5)(4)

Anonymous

Yes that’s what I meant

(0)(0)

Anonymous

As a non-straight, brown man, I find this extremely patronising. Some of us are muddling along just fine, despite our supposed ‘entitle[ment] to feel marginalised and have mental health problems’.

(2)(3)

Liberal (not LibDem) of Counsel

Do this generation of “liberal” students not appreciate the irony of their actions?

Generation Snowflake seem to operate on the basis that a person whose views (past or present) do not conform to their own orthodoxy deserve to lose their livelihoods.

Remember, until recent decades majority views on certain things were different.

Also, Roman Catholic position on homosexuality is not as most people seem to believe.

It is the act of gay sex that is seen as a sin, on a par with non-procreative heterosexual sex.

The Catholic Church does not regard homosexual attraction itself as sinful, and advocates for non-discrimination against gay people.

It is in fact fundamentalist Protestants who regard “being gay” as an orientation which is a sin deserving of correction or hell-fire.

Why do Snowflakes want to ban certain views rather than debating them?

Wouldn’t the world be boring if we all thought the same?

(20)(4)

Anonymous

Catholic doctrine on gay sex is irrelevant. This guy is not just spouting doctrine. Nor is he just expressing commonplace views that are now outdated (wouldn’t it be more worrying if a distinguished professor limited himself to repeating cliches?). He has explicitly taken the view that homosexual attraction or at least homosexual thoughts are themselves problematic, and made innovative arguments in support of this position. I agree that it’s important that academic speech should be protected. But acting like this is some little old man who is being attacked because he doesn’t understand the modern world is not accurate (as well as being rather patronising). And his views are definitely such that repeating them in some contexts could be harassment. He is pretty close to the line, and acting like this is a simple issue does no one any favours. Still, I don’t agree with the petition.

(11)(12)

Anonymous

Agreed. Thank you for your contribution to stopping discrimination and hate

(5)(2)

Anonymous

It is interesting to think that the petitioners are in essence saying this man disagrees with homosexuality, therefore he should be removed from the staff of the University of Oxford. The basis for his opposition to homosexuality is his religious belief, therefore, the obvious implication of this petition is to set a precedent for removing people who as a result of their religious belief believe that homosexuality is a sin or wrong. That being the case, the petitioners might want to look at the Faculty of Theology it might give them a shock to realise that pretty much the entire faculty disagree with homosexuality based on their religious belief.

(20)(3)

Anonymous

He would not agree with you that the “basis for his opposition to homosexuality is his religious belief”, and that certainly does not come across from his work. He’s a philosopher, who has written extensively about the philosophical underpinnings of his views.

(5)(5)

Just Anonymous

Imagine we lived in a world where voicing opposition to homosexuality was illegal.

In such a world, how could we have any confidence that homosexuality was actually ok? For all we would know, there could be really good, sound arguments against it which, due to the law, we would not be allowed to hear.

In today’s society, we can hear the arguments. And in my view they essentially boil down to “they can’t form loving relationships” (contradicted by observation); “they can’t have children naturally” (so what); and “God says so” (who cares).

Given such weak arguments, I have complete confidence in my position that homosexuality is morally permissible.

This is why these students are fundamentally wrong. It doesn’t matter how objectively wrong the opinion may be. In fact, the ‘worse’ it is the more important it is that it can be heard – so it can be met and defeated by rational argument. Which is the only way to defeat bad opinions.

(46)(3)

Big Bugger

Generations Snowflake love to destroy thought criminals.

It isn’t enough not to discriminate.

You have to actively affirm and publicly declare your approval.

Failure to do so is thought crime rendering you unfit to hold your position.

(10)(3)

Anonymous

I know eh! Bring back the “back of the bus” – all these snowflakes should just shut up, it was annoying the first time round with MLK and all that but this time it’s even more upsetting and annoying for white straight men

(6)(6)

Anonymous

#generationdrynites

(2)(0)

Wrong Comparison.

Yep because expressing opinions is similar to Jim Crow which by the way was an American/South African/Rhodesian system NOT British.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

A post written by someone cloaked in privilege. Those arguments didn’t work very well for those met with “No Blacks dogs or Irish” signs back in the day, but oh well they should have debated their way out of that one

(5)(15)

Just Anonymous

Not really. You are talking about historical fights against discrimination: irrationally treating people differently because of irrelevant characteristics. I am talking about expressing ideas.

Professor Finnis has done the latter, not the former.

If, by privileged, you mean that I am able to recognise that two different concepts are in fact different, then yes: I am very, very privileged.

(12)(2)

Anonymous

Why is discrim)nation based upon race “irrational”, but discrimination based upon sexuality “rational debate”? Why is race a “relevant” characteristic but sexuality “irrelevant”?

Again, not sure I follow – bigotry is bigotry and it lessens us all

Defending it is the same as those who defended Jim Crow laws

(1)(5)

Anonymous

its Just like all the full whack nut jobs from the “Keep the Clause” campaign back in 2003 when the Government was considering repealing s28 Education Act – that was just a “debate” in which “free speech and all views should be respected”. No – something’s are just discriminators plain and simple – Finnis was also a vocal advocate of retaining s28 but no one seemed to care back then – at least they do now!

(0)(3)

Anonymous

The student interviewed on Radio 4 this morning was very confused about what this petition is supposed to achieve. The interviewer spent most of the time trying to get him to clarify, to no avail, while the other guest basically just said “I think we can all agree this is nonsensical”.

(15)(0)

Anonymous

I felt rather sorry for the poor mite. One has to assume that he’s capable of better, given where he’s being educated. I don’t think he expected to be met with the level of inquiry that faced him. He seemed a little fazed to me. Being forced on to the back foot to deny the undeniable (that he came across – to paraphrase – as incoherent) was the final nail in the coffin of the camel’s back. By that point, he’d made his cake and had to lie in it.

(6)(1)

Anonymous

He wasn’t used to debate and discussion.

He’s just used to living in an echo chamber where everyone else agrees with him (some Universities regard expressions of disagreement as a micro-aggression).

As such, being thrust onto Radio 4, quizzed and debated was clearly an unusual and traumatic experience.

#generationdrynites

(11)(1)

Anonymous

All rather embarrassing for the BCL student who is associated with this all.

(15)(1)

Anonymous

But does he have a YouTube channel I can follow!?

(6)(0)

Bloke

I fully 100% agree with John Finnis’ views and back him wholeheartedly.

I am also appalled by the new generation of Oxford students.

Shame and embarrassment for all those who’ve petition against Mr Finnis.

(12)(9)

Anonymous

Yes that’s because you are a bigot. You’ll fit right in/do fit right in/would fit right in at Oxford

(4)(15)

Anonymous

Oxford is not full of bigots. You shouldn’t hold grudges because you didn’t get in.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

I did get in, I did the BCL

(0)(2)

Anonymous

I was there during the RMF campaign to take down the statue at Oriel, and I was proud of students trying to change the culture then, and it heartens me to know that there are still a vocal minority fighting discrimination now

(2)(5)

Anonymous

That was also a ridiculous campaign.

(7)(3)

Anonymous

Then you will know it’s not full of bigots.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

I call bullsh*t.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

“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“

Oh it’s just academic debate, that’s ok then – just like when racial genetic superiority pseudo-science used to be “academic debate”

I don’t think he should be removed, but when are we going to move past this idea that it’s only certain marginalised groups who are worthy of protection – saying bigoted things about LGBT people is just “academic discussion”

I’m sure they used to say that about Jim Crow laws

(5)(12)

Anonymous

There’s a big difference between a discriminatory law and a discriminatory opinion. I also think there can be a difference between the expression of a bigoted view and harassment. I am no fan of sexism, racism or homophobia. But I do think that academics should be able to say what they want in academic discussions – the precedent for removing them for incorrect views is just too dangerous. I don’t think this applies only to homophobes, there was (is?) a horrible professor of Slavic studies at the university of Leeds (if I recall correctly) who expressed some terribly racist views. I think it’s fine to not hire someone like that, but once they’re hired, I don’t think it’s safe for civil society to remove them because of the offensive views.

(4)(0)

False

You’re wrong.

First Jim Crow/de jure segregation never existed in Britain.

Secondly, everyone has the right to hold any views. You can’t stop people from thinking bad things. That’s the definition (in my view) of tyranny.

However, the govt and the law however should not discriminate on the basis of colour,creed,religion,sex etc.

The same goes for public activity within reason.

Hope you’ve learnt something for once.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

I wasn’t saying that Jim Crow existed in the U.K.- of course it didn’t. I was just trying to work out the difference between what Finnis was writing and an article supporting Jim Crow on the basis that blacks people are inferior. Not convinced there’s is a difference.

(2)(2)

Anonymous

When is everyone just going to f***ing STOP with the bigotry and prejudice. Seriously!!! It’s been like 3000 years of it just STOP it! Does it really add so much to their existence being bigoted, does it really enhance their life and happiness?

(0)(18)

Anonymous

You’re entitled to your opinion, just as Finnis is entitled to his.

What you’re not entitled to is silencing others because you regard their views as bigotted.

(11)(1)

Pretty in Pink

The reality is that the snowflakes melt in the face of rigorous academic debate. Narcissists in suspended animation.

(4)(0)

Bernard

The sex organs are for reproduction, like the lungs are for breathing or the heart for circulation. I don’t get why some people feel that it’s a misdirection if one believes and espouses that one should be responsible and mindful of that fact and regard it as the reasonable and pre-eminate way to regard the sexual function.

(0)(1)

Alumni

Just shut up everyone already. This story is not even a story. Nothing is going to happen. Clearly, these students should not be at Oxford if they think that controversial thoughts and writings have no place at British Universities. Clearly, they do not how to challenge such thoughts in an intelligent manner.

Just calm down and carry on.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

Disappointing, especially from Oxford students. If academics – or anyone for that matter – are afraid of being removed from their posts after making controversial points, intellectual thought/discussion will be stifled and different perspectives/takes on social issues will be avoided. His views may appear as backwards, but this restriction of free speech is definitely backwards.

(1)(0)

Comments are closed.

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