gabriel baraldi bournemouth poole students union pro-life tweet censored
Freedom of Religion

Students’ Union president censured and censored over pro-life tweet

Gabriel Baraldi is a student a Bournemouth & Poole College. According to his Twitter biography, he is a “Tri-National Green Conservative Christian Vegetarian”. His bio also used to say “@BPCollege SU President”, but he was forced to delete that after he published a pro-life tweet which expressed the view that “Abortions should be reduced to when the woman’s life is at risk only”.  It was a perfectly straightforward statement of Roman Catholic belief and moral teaching, and it was made on his personal Twitter account.

Complaints were made to Bournemouth & Poole College, who must have passed them on to the Executive Committee of the Students’ Union, which is run by students for students (it is not run by academic authorities at Bournemouth & Poole College). Apparently, the Executive Committee (or just the Equalities VP?) considered the tweet offensive, so it had to be deleted. Gabriel Baraldi (or, to give him his full name [which he seems to prefer] Gabriel Lemos Finocchio Baraldi] was also forced to remove mention of his being SU President from his Twitter bio.

This was the offensive tweet:

It isn’t clear if students who expressed the view that his mother should have aborted him have also been censured and forced to delete their offensive tweets, or whether it’s only the SU President who isn’t permitted to express a personal view on his personal Twitter account; or, indeed, whether it’s only Christians who aren’t permitted to express a personal religious-moral view. Some thought that by mentioning in his Twitter bio the fact that he is SU President conveyed the view that his utterance was made on behalf of the Student’s Union:

Some people seem to be purposely obtuse in order to coerce censorship: this is quite clearly Gabriel LF Baraldi’s personal Twitter account, and there is no suggestion that a view expressed upon it is the official view of the Bournemouth & Poole College Students Union, for which, presumably, people might consult the BPCSU website directly. So, once again, a moral debate is silenced, and that debate concerns the extent and limits of abortion, and the side which is censored is the one which dares to moot – even moderately and courteously – the nature of female autonomy and limitations on agency and liberty.

One might perhaps expect a Students’ Union occasionally to get things wrong: when an organisation is run by students for students, one ought not to expect professions of profound wisdom or universal exhortations to right praxis. But neither does one expect a college of higher education to be ignorant of the importance of upholding the freedoms of speech, expression and religion. Gabriel Baraldi’s tweet was speech or expression within the law, and that freedom is protected. It is really quite outrageous that he was coerced into self-censoring, and even more outrageous that he was forced to delete a point of factual biography. Either he is a fit an proper person to be SU President, or he is not. If he is, he shouldn’t be forced to hide his light under a bushel: he has a democratic mandate, after all.

It is, of course, important that the BPCSU ensures that the rights and dignity of all students at the College are respected and valued, but Gabriel Baraldi is also a student at the College, and his rights and dignity should also be respected and valued so he can study and function as SU President without fear of discrimination or harassment.

And he has manifestly suffered both discrimination and harassment.

The College’s Policy on Freedom of Speech and Expression is clear:

The Bournemouth and Poole College affirm its commitment to the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression; and academic freedom so far as that is reasonably practical within the realms of the law.

…All persons to whom this Policy applies are required to observe the principle of freedom of speech and expression while on College premises and shall show respect and tolerance towards the expression of views, opinions and beliefs of others, even though those views, opinions or beliefs may run contrary to their own personal views, opinions or beliefs.

…The Education (No 2) Act 1986 (the “Act”) requires every individual and body of persons concerned in the government of any further education institution to take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for students and employees of the institution and for visiting speakers.

Bournemouth & Poole College has a legal obligation to ensure not only that its Students’ Union President enjoys freedom of speech (expression and religion), but also that he is not discriminated against or harassed for expressing his personal views. Instead of passing the buck to the SU Executive Committee, the academic authorities should have replied to complainants that the College is committed to academic freedom and the vibrant discussion of ideas, and abortion policy is not beyond debate.

Nor, of course, is Roman Catholic teaching in matters of faith or morals.