PETITIONING for a ban or a sacking, that’s freedom of speech. But an actual sacking – that’s not. Roughly speaking that’s my view on the noisy debate that has followed a petition by students asking for the removal of John Finnis, emeritus professor of law and legal philosophy at Oxford University, for, it said, being “homophobic and transphobic”. Finnis had, for instance, in 1994, written of the "evil of homosexual conduct".

When we read anything from many decades ago, there’s a chance we will come across things that today seem almost shocking. Last week, I picked up a book by the ninety-year-old therapist Bert Hellinger which I was enjoying until I reached the chapter in which he described how a woman should follow a man. What did I do with this? I kept reading, even though it infuriated every feminist cell in my body. Hellinger, I figured, was of his times and a former priest – but I needn’t throw the baby out with this bath water.

It was this that I thought of when I learned about the Finnis petition, but also saw that many on social media were defending the Catholic professor, partly because he had made, it was said, significant contributions to jurisprudence. What, I wondered, do we do with views that were once mainstream, but are now being pushed out to the fringes, yet still have the power to upset us, to even fuel hate?

It was also what I thought about when I heard on Radio 4’s Today programme an interview with a student, Sulamaan Rahim, about the petition. Presenter Justin Webb suggested that the students should just go to the lectures and argue with Finnis. Rahim’s response was that students in fact would see no point in arguing with it. “At what point do you think you can challenge someone like this who has said that gay sex is bestiality? At what point do you think you are going to be the one who delivers this incisive line of inquiry to him that finally makes him see the error of his ways?”

It’s not hard to see how today’s students of Finnis, might feel devastated to hear their way of life, or anyone’s, described as bestiality. But that, in a sense, is where they confront history, a living version of it, speaking still, as it does in many voices all over the country and world. For this is a view that is still alive, but also dying in the UK. It’s dying because it was fought against by generations of activists. These students are the next generation, pushing it to the next level – but, the problem is that as they push up against this, we hit a pressure point over free speech. Rights begin to conflict. People have a right to follow their chosen belief system – but for some that does involve a reading of Christianity, or Islam, which condemns homosexuality or abortion. It’s hard to know what to do with that. The rights balance is almost impossible to strike correctly.

Meanwhile, who holds power is also at the heart of this scenario. I’ll admit I’ve not read much by Finnis, but even if I had it’s also true that my relationship with it would be different to that of a student attending his lectures in Oxford, where his position gives him power. However, the students, too, have their own power, because what they’re pushing for is in keeping with the direction of travel our society is taking on rights – and they are exercising it.

Online I can barely find a person who supports John Finnis’s views on homosexuality, but I can find plenty who say that what he has said on jurisprudence is important and can’t be ignored. This says a lot about the mood of the country. The message overall is that we abhor his homophobia, but freedom of speech remains important to us. In other words, we are balanced precariously on a knife edge. In this context, the debate around the petition might be a very good thing, but Finnis’s actual sacking would not.

When I first heard of Januhairy, I thought could there be more or a non-event? That this should be a thing, the growing by women of their body hair during a month when we’re wrapped up to the ears in our woollies, is baffling. This, surely, is the time when almost everyone is taking the opportunity to save a few hours of personal grooming work and letting it all grow like a nice wild lawn. Then Piers Morgan, has felt the need to stick his, always pertinent, oar in on the subject, and labelled those of us who are sensible enough to give up the shave through winter as “lazy and revolting”. And it became clear to me that we need Januhairy, or at least we need to tell the truth about Januhairy – because, haven’t most of us been doing Januhairy, for a very long time? And, great as Januhairy might be, as part of a campaign to promote body acceptance, isn’t the key thing what happens in the more exposed summer months? Now, if someone was to advocate for Shaggytember or Augrowth, then we would be talking about a proper revolution.