A March 10 free speech panel hosted by the Yale University Federalist Society turned hostile when more than 120 protestors disrupted the event at which Kristen Waggoner, general counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and Monica Miller, legal director and senior counsel for the American Humanist Association (AHA), were serving as panelists.
The Yale Federalist Society had asked Waggoner and Miller, two attorneys from seemingly opposite sides of the judicial spectrum, to talk about the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski. The case revolved around Chike Uzuegbunam, a Christian student at Georgia Gwinnett College who was denied the right to share his faith on campus in 2016, despite limiting his activities to the school’s designated “free speech zones.” In response, Uzuegbunam sued the school for violating his First Amendment rights.
ADF represented Uzuegbunam in his case against the school, and AHA filed an amicus brief on behalf of ADF, an unlikely partnership between the two organizations.
The purpose of the March 10 panel was to show how a liberal atheistic organization and a conservative Christian organization could find common ground on the issue of free speech. But before panel discussions even began, protestors entered the classroom and began hurling threats and insults at Waggoner.
As a Christian legal organization, ADF’s mission is to protect religious freedom, free speech, marriage and family, parental rights and the sanctity of life. And as an attorney with ADF, Waggoner has argued many cases in support of that mission. But many LGBTQ activists have labeled ADF a “hate group,” prompting protestors to object to Waggoner’s presence on the panel.
“At some point, the protesters all … stood up … after snapping their fingers and doing these precocious juvenile gestures, [and] came down to the front next to me and Monica [Miller] from the Humanist Association, walked right by us, slapped some signs down, called us some names, and walked out of the room,” Waggoner said. “But then for the next 45 minutes or so, they began to pound on the walls outside of the exits of the room and to scream and chant and those kinds of things. In those moments we were able to get some words in, but then they came back in … to start their jeering and their hurling of insults. It got to the point where it was so volatile that we couldn’t even exit the building without security.
“… What was the most concerning to me leaving that room,” she added, “was that they were not able to engage in any kind of critical thinking, in any intellectual curiosity. There was such a lack of humility and just basic civility to be able to engage with viewpoints they disagreed with. And again, there was nothing controversial about the topic we were speaking about.”
A Yale spokesperson claimed the protestors followed the law school’s “three strikes rule.” Under this rule, students who disrupt an event are first given an extensive warning laying out the school’s free speech policy. If they continue with their disruption, they’re given a shorter, second warning. At that point, if they do not relent, administrators must ask them to leave—or call the Yale police, who are authorized to remove them if necessary. Protestors did eventually leave the room after law professor Kate Stith, who moderated the event, began to read aloud the university’s free speech policy. Nonetheless, the spokesperson said “members of the administration are nonetheless in serious conversation with students about our policies, expectations, and norms.”
Above: Yale University Law School in New Haven, Connecticut.
Photo: Jeremy Graham/Alamy