We have been discussing how academics and students now define blocking speech or shouting down speakers to be an exercise of free speech. It is the very denial of free speech but also violates the rules of many universities. Yet, administrators are either supportive of such cancelling efforts or fearful in being tagged the next racist or reactionary by a mob. So we have scenes like the one at Yale Law School where students disrupted a conservative speaker and required the intervention of campus police to safely remove the speakers. It is particularly distressing to see such scenes unfold at law schools where free speech was once taught as a defining right in our system. As shown recently at Georgetown Law School, free speech is often portrayed today more as a threat rather than a guarantee in our system. Indeed, Yale students later complained that the police presence at the event created an unsafe space for students as they disrupted the event. Police were needed to escort the speakers safely out of the event.
The event was precisely what law schools once strived to present in sharing diverse viewpoints and allowing for the opportunity of dialogue on issues that are important to our society. A panel featured Monica Miller from the American Humanist Association and Kristen Waggoner, a conservative Christian of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) nonprofit to discuss issues related to the ongoing litigation in the Supreme Court over religious exercise, free speech, and anti-discrimination laws.
According to the Washington Free Beacon, the panel was going to explore various issues. However, it also allowed a discussion from a liberal atheist and a conservative Christian on the right of a baker in refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. I have previously written about that case as well as the new case coming before the Supreme Court.
Notably, as Professor Kate Stith tries to remind the students that Yale guarantees the right to free speech, one student yells “this is free speech” in shouting down such speakers. Stith finally tells the students to “grow up.”
After the speakers were escorted out of the room, the protesters chanted “protect trans kids” and “shame, shame” in the halls of the law school in protest of the speakers being able to appear on campus.
Miller, who opposes Waggoner’s nonprofit as a “hate group,” shared Waggoner’s shock at the conduct of the law students and, as a liberal advocate, noted that “if you can’t talk to your opponents, you can’t be an effective advocate.”
Yale expressly prohibits this type of disruption. The guidance posting states:
Yale is committed to fostering an environment that values the free expression of ideas. In 1975, Yale adopted the Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at Yale (the Woodward Report ) as providing the standard for university policy. This guidance addresses the university’s freedom of expression policy as applied in a variety of situations.
The exercise of free expression on campus is subject to three general conditions:
1) access to a university event or facility may not be blocked;
2) a university event, activity, or its regular or essential operations may not be disrupted; and
3) safety may not be compromised.
Two days after event, 417 students reportedly signed an open letter that not only supported the disruption but claimed that protesters were “imperiled by the presence of police” as they worked to prevent the exercise of free speech. They also attacked Stith and the Federalist Society for hosting an event that “profoundly undermined our community’s values of equity and inclusivity.”
The open letter states in part:
“It is important to recognize that, nationwide, LGBTQ people are six times more likely to be stopped by the police than non-LGBTQ people and trans people are especially abused by the criminal legal system. The danger of police violence in this country is intensified against Black LGBTQ people, and particularly Black trans people. Police-related trauma includes, but is certainly not limited to, physical harm. Even with all of the privilege afforded to us at YLS, the decision to allow police officers in as a response to the protest put YLS’ queer student body at risk of harm. Police have targeted Yale students who did not appear to “belong” before, so concerns about police presence are real and present for many in our community.
The safety of a large contingent of YLS students—a group of largely LGBTQ and BIPOC students—was put at risk, possibly by our own administration. The risk was not just hypothetical: one of the officers called into SLB went as far as to try to move a trans student by physically pushing against them with his much larger body, despite the fact that the student was standing where OSA representatives had asked them to stand.”
Law student Rachel Perler objected that “[It’s] just ironic that students who showed up to engage in free speech, either by asking questions or by protesting the event, were faced with armed police.”
What is also notable is the silence of most of the faculty at Yale. That is also a common factor in these attacks on dissenting viewpoints on campuses. The message is clear. Events featuring dissenting views, particularly from conservative or libertarian speakers, will not be tolerated.
Notably, alumni at Princeton have also objected to how the university has repeatedly undermined free speech despite its strong commitment to guaranteeing the expression of diverse viewpoints. Edward Yingling and Stuart Taylor Jr. have detailed that troubling history of the university fueling attacks on faculty and students holding opposing views. The organization, Princetonians for Free Speech, have recently called on the board of directors to investigate and intervene to preserve diversity of thought at the university.
It is an all-too-familiar pattern being played out across the country. The record of most schools is at best passive aggressive in declining to enforce their free speech rules. The result is a chilling effect on free speech that is perfectly glacial.