Universities like Yale must stand up to the crowd and protect a culture of free speech


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It is easy, and right, for Americans to wave the now ubiquitous blue and yellow striped flag in support of the courageous struggle of Ukrainians to maintain their independence and oppose the tyrannical regime of Vladimir Putin. But inside many of our country’s most elite institutions, tyranny, not freedom, prevails.

I recently spoke at Yale Law School, and a crowd of nearly 120 law students showed up to hurl insults and disrupt a legal roundtable on remedies for First Amendment violations.

I, a conservative Christian, was there alongside another lawyer, a progressive atheist, to engage in serious dialogue on an issue of common concern. Although we vehemently disagree on some very important issues, we hoped to show how to engage in civil discourse and find common ground when possible. Ironically, that middle ground was a free speech case before the United States Supreme Court that I believe united both sides of the political spectrum. What could be so controversial about this?

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But rather than listen and engage in civil dialogue, the vitriolic crowd shouted their teacher, who was hosting, and then me. Then they were able to chant, pound on classroom walls and reportedly disrupt classes and nearby meetings. Members of the venerable Federalist Society, the group that organized the event, were harassed and physically threatened by their fellow law students. The situation was so unstable that we needed an armed police escort to leave campus.

More than 120 Yale Law School students protested a bipartisan free speech event on March 10. (Yana Paskova/Getty Images, File)
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What worried me most – and should worry all of us deeply – was a room full of would-be lawyers, legislators, jurists and corporate executives who would rather bang on walls, use obscene gestures and indulge in name-calling and slander. physical bullying rather than acting like adults. Critical thinking, intellectual curiosity and courtesy are the hallmarks of exceptional lawyers and leaders. But these students sought to silence ideas – and people – they disliked through harassment and intimidation.

This experience only deepened my determination to give a voice to the thousands of students who have faced this kind of harassment and intimidation on their own campuses.

Mob rule is a lot like tyranny, and that mob has Yale administrators under its power. In a weak statement released Thursday, Yale defended the student disruptors, grossly downplayed the chaos they wreaked and referenced the university’s “fundamental commitment” to being able to “speak freely.”

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For my part, I was do not able to speak freely. University officials have not enforced their own free speech policy that prohibits students from “interfering[ing] with the ability for speakers to be heard and for community members to listen,” as several audio clips reveal.

In its statement, Yale Law officials also said – incorrectly – that a police presence was not necessary, apparently trying to appease the two-thirds of Yale Law students who signed a letter complaining that the police was involved in what the students mistakenly called “peaceful dialogue.” Yale law administrators apparently would rather curry favor with the crowd than insist on a culture of free speech.

A sign at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut (iStock)

A sign at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut (iStock)

As my colleague, Monica Miller of the American Humanist Association, acknowledged in an interview, the students’ behavior was a bad omen for the legal profession: “As lawyers, we need to put aside our differences and talk to opposing counsel. you can’t talk to your opponents, you can’t be an effective defender.”

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This sentiment may be why a federal appeals court judge allegedly sent an email to all federal judges urging them to think twice before hiring a Yale student who participated in the activities. of speech censorship on March 10, stating, “All federal judges – and all federal judges presumably are committed to freedom of speech – should carefully consider whether such a student so identified should be disqualified for potential internships.” It may also explain why the New York Times editorial board said “America has a free speech problem,” warning that cancel culture is causing Americans to lose faith in their ability to speak freely.

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For Yale Law to regain his respect and reputation, he must back down. Administrators cannot allow youthful mobs to destroy civil dialogue. Yale – and all other academic institutions – must be the very epicenters where free speech prevails, where we can civilly debate the most polarizing issues of our time.

As for me, this experience has only deepened my determination to give a voice to the thousands of students who have faced this kind of bullying and bullying on their own campuses. At Alliance Defending Freedom, we speak the truth but always strive to do so with kindness, compassion, and charitable determination. The answer to disagreement should always be more talk. There is too much at stake to remain silent.


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