Oxford professor revealed that freedom of speech exists only as the idea. In practice, the situation is quite different.
Jesus Christ would be banned from speaking at universities if he was alive in 2016 along with other ‘non-violent extremists’, a leading Oxford professor warned yesterday.
Professor Timothy Garton Ash complained that Britain has become ‘too feeble’ at supporting free speech and insisted that the public must stand up against self-censorship.
The European Studies expert told the Hay Festival in Powys, Wales, that UK universities are now encouraged by Home Office legislation to block even non-violent extremists from appearing on site.
And 60-year-old Mr Ash said this could have included leading thinkers of centuries past such as Karl Marx, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Charles Darwin, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and even Christ.
Mr Ash said: ‘In the new counter-terrorism legislation, the securocrats in the Home Office are trying to impose on universities a so-called prevent duty, which would call on us to prevent event non-violent extremists speaking on campus.
‘Now, non-violent extremists? That’s Karl Marx, Rousseau, Charles Darwin, Hegel, and most clearly Jesus Christ, who was definitely a non-violent extremist.
‘The Home Office wouldn’t want him preaching on campus. This is a real threat I think to free speech and one we have to fight back against.’
Mr Ash’s speech comes a week after a Higher Education Policy Institute survey found most students believe that speakers with offensive views should be banned from giving talks at universities.
Almost three quarters of students support the National Union of Students’ ‘No Platform’ policy which prohibits those on a list put together by the union from speaking at universities.
A Home Office spokesman told MailOnline today: ‘The law is explicit that, in complying with the Prevent (counter-terrorism strategy) duty, universities must have particular regard to their duty to ensure freedom of speech and academic freedom. So in many cases, complying with the Prevent duty is as simple as ensuring there is an effective chair and a strong opposition voice.
‘There is no contradiction between promoting freedom of speech and taking account of the well-being of students, staff and the wider community, nor is there anything in the duty or any other aspect of Prevent which curtails genuine political debate.
‘Protecting those who are vulnerable and at risk of radicalisation is a job for all of us and this Government is continuing to work in partnership with communities of all backgrounds to challenge those who spread hatred and intolerance.’
Mr Ash was promoting his new book Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World.