In a letter to the Permanent Secretary of the UK’s Home Office, headed by Home Secretary Priti Patel, Matthew Rycroft, the Free Speech Union objected to a directive to staff to change their email signatures to indicate their pronouns.
According to the FSU, the directive, which was later clarified to be mandatory, is a violation of free speech rights as it compels speech whether people agree with it or not.
“We are alarmed to discover from the employee of UK Visas and Immigration that Home Office staff have been instructed to change their email signatures so they include their pronouns. We are concerned that this directive, which appears to be mandatory, is a form of compelled speech that violates the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and the right to free speech (Article 9 and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights) as incorporated in UK law by the Human Rights Act, and is a breach of the Equality Act 2010 (EqA).”
In an April 4 email, staff were told to include their pronouns in their email signatures. In another email the following day, a manager clarified that the directive was not a request but a demand.
Employees were told that the purpose of the change was to represent “the wider cultural changes” in the department.
The FSU’s letter calls on Rycroft to confirm that “no Home Office employee has been penalized for refusing to include their pronouns in their email signatures, and, to avoid any confusion, make sure this email is rescinded and make it clear to managers at all levels of the Home Office that stating pronouns on email signatures is not, and must not become, mandatory.”