Meg Lee Chin

Dear CEO of the Conway Hall Ethical Society,

My name is Meg Lee Chin. I am a member of the Conway Hall Ethical Society and a lifelong devoted champion of free thought and speech. I have spent much of my life in support of progressive causes, especially with regard to the rights of women and minorities. Before joining, I had researched Conway Hall's history and reputation as a safe space for radical thought and free speech. I noted the following declaration from your website;

"Conway Hall is & always will be the place for those who dare to dream of a better world. For nearly a hundred years, Conway Hall has been home to Britain’s bravest thinkers and boldest social movements. Conway Hall is where the radical ideas that change our society are born."

But what I have experienced is that far from providing a safe space, the registered charity has fostered an intolerant monoculture. Please allow me to alert you to some rather worrying incidences of bigotry and the generalized atmosphere of bullying toward certain segments of the population.

1) At a Wikipedia workshop in the Library, I overheard the facilitator referring to all Brexit voters as racist xenophobes. When I asked him what percentage of the British population he considered to be genuinely racist, he replied 52% without a hint of humour or irony. When I told him I was a Brexit voter, he stated matter of factly I may not be a racist but that I was supporting racism. I was glared at by most of the room and felt I couldn't stay. I left.

2) At a workshop in the Library about Citizen Journalism, the facilitators spent more time extolling the need to censor certain views than of the need for citizens to uphold their right to free speech. They referred to the University of Canada professor Jordan Peterson as a "far-right white supremicist". When an Asian woman and I tried to protest the exagerration, we were shouted down by most of the room and accused of supporting racism. Ironically we were two of only a few people of color in the room. The rest were mostly white. Not feeling comfortabe, both the Asian Lady and I left.

3) After another event, I approached the speaker to highlight something which disturbed me. I asked "If you were to replace the word "Brexit voter" in your talk today with the words "black, jewish, muslim or gay" would you still feel comfortable saying it? At this point Carmen (who is a trustee) interjected, saying that it was fair enough to ridicule Brexit voters, because unlike minorities, "Brexit voters made the choice to vote Brexit". I then referred Carmen to the Oxford dictionary definition of bigotry, I attach it here;

Learn to pronounce
intolerance towards those who hold different opinions from oneself.
"the difficulties of combating prejudice and bigotry"

4) At the recent 15 September 2019 talk entitled "Brexit Without the Bullshit", I had hoped to hear a balanced view of the Brexit issue, but was disappointed to hear the same old vilification of Brexiteers. When I and one other older gentleman expressed dissenting views in the Q&A afterward, we were both met with vitriol by the speaker. The speaker pointed his finger at me and spat the words "It's people like you....!!!". I can barely remember what he said about "people like me" because he spoke so hatefully and aggressively. This seemed to encourage the crowd who jeered, shouted and barely allowed me to finish my sentence. Not only did Carmen do nothing to discourage the mob, but she also seemed to endorse the atmosphere with wry smiles and almost to encourage complaints about me. Please note: I have yet to receive the usual feedback email for this talk.

These are just some examples of a generalized atmosphere of bullying and suppression. The tools used are;

1) Selective time constraints - the clock ticks more rapidly for those with dissenting views. The mob are encouraged in their role as punishing enforcers through jeering, complaints, and shouts by the facilitators (Carmen, Scott) who jeer, complain and shout themselves. Though our words are cut off, those towing the line are allowed to take their time and suffer no interruption.

2) Scheduling of Limited, One-Sided Viewpoints, Topics, and Speakers - A strict ringfencing of intellectual discourse through a narrow ideological offering.

3) Rigidly Hierarchical and Sycophantic Culture - Emphasis is placed upon selling the books of authors who peddle the usual tired cliches which were once progressive but are now mainstream dogma. Q&A is restricted to non-challenging soft questions in a hero-worshipping fashion.

3) No Effective System for Complaint - Though I've complained twice in writing, the response comes via the same people who are the target of those very complaints. This is a bit like the wolves reforming the henhouse. It raises the possibility that the wolves will manipulate procedures in order to maintain control over the ideological stranglehold. What's needed is a neutral or objective third party to step in and see what's going on with the Conway Hall Ethical Society, which is supposed to be a registered charity - not a private political body or purveyors of a limited world view.

We live in a rapidly changing world where the amount of citizen's data available to governments is truly staggering. This renders We the People vulnerable to abuse and the danger that come with suppression of thought. Now more than ever, we need safe spaces for free speech. Conway Hall could be at the forefront of this. But unfortunately, the Ethical Society which was once the enablers of radical thought is in danger of becoming the oppressor of non-mainstream ideology.

Best regards,

Meg Lee Chin

Dear Meg,

Thank you for sending me this email.

I do appreciate you taking the time and effort to detail all the varying elements.

I treat such issues very seriously.

In the first instance, I would like to discuss your points with some of my colleagues.

However, in the meantime, may I ask whether you would be amenable to meeting with me to discuss these items in person. I’m at Conway Hall on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the main, but am coming in this Sunday to conduct site tours for the Fun Palace event we are holding and could possibly see you at 10.30am…?

Best wishes,



Dear Mr. Walsh,

I appreciate your offer to meet in person. But for the moment I would prefer to communicate in writing.

My previous complaints seemed to be met with efforts to convince me that I was wrong, rather than an acknowledgment of the problem.


Meg Lee Chin


Dear Meg,

Following your request for written communication rather than us meeting in person, I’m going to attempt to set down some responses to your initial email.

I’m delighted that our aspirations for Conway Hall to be a safe space and our website attracted your interest and that you have followed it up with attendance at a good many of our events. Obviously, I’m disappointed to read how you feel you have been treated thereafter.

Being a Brexit voter in a very strongly remain city is, I’m sure, a difficult position to maintain and I can quite understand that it must be infuriating at times to have one’s position misappropriated, dismissed or talked over. Obviously, rational engagement in debate is far superior to any of the put-downs you have felt you have experienced at Conway Hall.

Whilst it is difficult for me to undertake a forensic examination of the specifics you mention, it is incumbent upon me to try and at least understand and take seriously your statements and hopefully address some of the general points.

Having consulted with a few of my colleagues, I feel that we might possibly have a difference of opinion as to how our events are conducted. Our workshops and Thinking on Sunday/Monday are pre-dominantly a speaker led survey of a particular area in which they are an expert. As an educational charity, this means that we should be enabling education to take place. The Questions and Answers session at the end of the Thinking on Sunday/Monday sessions in particular are really an opportunity for audience members to gain clarity from the speaker on any of the content they have brought forth in their talk. Unfortunately, due to time, and sadly I have to say appetite, a debate style approach with audience members included is not possible. On occasion, we do, of course, present debates between speakers as part of our programme.

From what you have told me and what some of my colleagues have mentioned it would seem that you have an appetite for debate on a variety of topics. As mentioned, this is possibly the root of some the responses you have had with speakers, organisers and fellow audience members. They are expecting something distinct from what you are expecting.

Having said that, of course, we aspire to be a free thought institution that welcomes free speech and operates as a safe space. And this theme has constantly been reiterated to me by my colleagues in terms of what they believe you stand for. We need voices of dissent. They advance thinking and operate as educationally instructive mediums in their own right – such is one of the basic principles of free speech. The difficulty, I suppose, arises in terms of how one’s dissenting voice is expressed and the environment within which it is revealed. As I’m sure you know more than me, more often than not the dissenting voice is received antagonistically and responded to abruptly. Unfortunately, this is not something easy to fix, it is also, again as I’m sure you are more aware than me, something incredibly hard to enable in a time-limited period such as a Q & A session with multiple voices desiring to ask questions.

So, in conclusion,

1. I hope you can see that I am listening and trying to engage with the issues that you have alerted me to, although I’m obviously resistant to tackling specifics – 30 years of experience in various arenas has taught me this - and more desirous of uncovering causes and more general themes where hopefully one can reach consensus in a calm and neutral manner.

2. Might I suggest that you keep true to yourself, but possibly present your views in a manner where they can be heard rather than misappropriated, dismissed or talked over. I realise this pushes back on you, however, I also know, from my own experience, that this is the most effective way to be heard.

Please do respond as you see fit, but please be aware that I might not be able to respond as much as you would like in the future due to the time commitments I bear.


Dear Mr. Walsh,

Thank you for your reply. I appreciate that you've taken the time to hear my concern over what seems to be a culture of bullying, bigotry, and bias at Conway Hall - especially with regard Brexit voters.

However, I find it disturbing that you've described your talks as "educational". I would normally associate education with fact-based information. But in practice, many feature issues of a political nature and much of the content is opinion-based. This coupled with a policy to restrict audience participation to "very short questions only" and allowing other audience members to shout down those asking difficult questions is nothing short of alarming.

This leads me to question whether these "educational" activities can be considered legitimate in the context of a registered charity For without policies in place for balanced and intelligent discourse, Conway Hall Ethical Society is in danger of providing not education, but propaganda.

For the record, I have attended a number of Non-Ethical Society hosted events at Conway Hall and been delighted to discover a more open atmosphere free of the bullying and rigid control which I've witnessed at your own hosted events. This suggests there is something particular to the policies or culture of your organization and seems in direct contradiction to your stated function which is toward "Opening up cultural and intellectual opportunities to local and diverse communities" and "harmony/equality or diversity"

As a concerned citizen, I would be grateful if you could re-examine your policies in order to continue to fulfill the aims as stated on both your own and the Charity Commission's website.

Meg Lee Chin