Yale Law School students interrupt event and demand right to speak to speakers
The Yale Law School Chapter of the Federalist Society invited two speakers to campus to discuss a recent Supreme Court case, Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, which involves religious freedom. The participants were Kristen Wagoner and Monica Miller; Wagoner is general counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a legal group that champions conservative social and religious causes, and Miller represents the American Humanist Association (AHA), a secular organization.
While Wagoner and Miller often take opposing positions, the case in question was a religious liberty issue that united many civil libertarians on both left and right. Both the ADF and the AHA had provided assistance to the plaintiff, Chike Uzuegbunam, whose university had prohibited him from proselytizing on campus. The planned discussion of the case – which was decided 8-1 in favor of Uzuegbunam – was intended “to illustrate that a liberal atheist and a conservative Christian could find common ground on issues of free speech” , according to Washington’s Free Beacon.
Law students, however, refused to acknowledge this common ground: dozens of them protested the event and heckled the attendees. They interrupted Yale law professor Kate Stith as she tried to introduce Wagoner and Miller. Stith quickly grew irritated with the students and dared to scold them. At one point, she told them to “grow up”, which enraged the crowd.
In the video above, students can be heard claiming that the principles of free speech gave them the right not just to ask questions or protest the event, but to constantly interrupt speakers. When Stith accused the students of “disrupting speakers’ freedom of speech”, the students retorted that “you are disturbing us”.
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Protesters proceeded to walk out of the event — one shouted “Fuck you, FedSoc” as he walked out — but gathered in the lobby just outside. Then they started stomping, shouting, clapping, singing, and pounding on the walls, making it hard to hear the sign. Chants of “protect trans children” and “shame, shame” echoed throughout the law school. The din was so loud it disrupted classes, exams and nearby faculty meetings, according to students and a professor who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Ellen Cosgrove, the associate dean of the law school, was on the panel the entire time. Although the cacophony clearly violated Yale’s free speech policies, it did not confront any of the protesters.
Sometimes things seemed in danger of getting physical. Protesters were blocking the only exit from the event, and two members of the Federalist Society said they were grabbed and shoved as they tried to leave.
“It was disturbing to see law students driven into a senseless frenzy,” Wagoner said. “I didn’t think it was safe to walk out of the room without security.”
Police eventually arrived to escort the panelists out of the building. Their presence made the students even more angry; nearly 400 current law students have signed an open letter accusing Yale of endangering the lives of the LGBTQ community, apparently because police are disproportionately likely to harm members of the LGBTQ community (at least according to the letter) , and also because the ADF is recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as an anti-LGBTQ hate group. (The SPLC is not particularly demanding when it comes to applying such labels.)
“Understandably, many YLS students felt that FedSoc’s decision to legitimize this hate group by inviting its general counsel to speak at YLS deeply undermined FedSoc’s values of fairness and inclusion. our community at a time when LGBTQ youth are being actively attacked in Texas. , Florida and other states,” the letter read. “We are writing today because in addition to the ADF’s deeply disrespectful presence on campus and the faculty moderator’s dismissal of our peaceful action as childish, armed police were called into the Sterling Law Building in response to our peaceful protest exercise.”
Students of course have the right to object to the presence of the police on campus. And they should feel free to protest anyone whose legal defense is hostile to the LGBTQ community; certainly, the ADF has taken positions that can be characterized as such. But law students should be able to tackle these positions. They cannot silence anyone who tries to express a point of view with which they disagree, and they should not leave law school with the impression that it is constructive to avoid engaging with ideological opponents. Again, as the Supreme Court case in question demonstrates, trials can make strange bedfellows, and even lawyers who argue passionately must nonetheless understand and respect each other.
“Future lawyers must have the critical thinking skills, intellectual curiosity, humility and maturity to engage with ideas and legal principles with which they may disagree,” Wagoner said in a statement, according to Yale Daily News. “Unfortunately, some students who attended the Federalist Society event refused to allow others to speak and acted aggressively and hostile towards me, Professor Kate Stith and Monica Miller of the American Humanist Association.”
This kerfuffle at Yale comes two weeks after a similar incident at UC Hastings, where law students blocked Ilya Shapiro, a libertarian-conservative legal expert, from debating Rory Little, a UC Hastings law professor and progressive thinker. The next generation of lawyers, judges, and judges certainly aren’t doing too well lately. It’s hard not to sympathize with Stith’s frustrated statement that maybe they should “grow up.”