Campus Free Speech

'Grow Up': Yale Law School Students Interrupt Event, Demand Right To Talk Over Speakers

"FedSoc's decision to lend legitimacy to this hate group...profoundly undermined our community's values of equity and inclusivity."


Yale Law School's 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 Waggoner and Monica Miller; Waggoner is general counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a legal group that advocates for conservative social and religious causes, and Miller represents the American Humanist Association (AHA), a secular organization.

While Waggoner and Miller often take opposite positions, the case in question was a religious freedom issue that united many supporters of civil liberties on both the left and right. The ADF and AHA had both provided assistance to the plaintiff, Chike Uzuegbunam, whose college had prohibited him from proselytizing on campus. The scheduled discussion about the case—which was decided 8–1 in Uzuegbunam's favor—was meant "to illustrate that a liberal atheist and a conservative Christian could find common ground on free speech issues," according to The Washington Free Beacon.

The law students, however, refused to recognize this common ground: Dozens of them protested the event and heckled the participants. They interrupted Kate Stith, a Yale law professor, as she attempted to introduce Waggoner and Miller. Stith quickly became irritated with the students and dared to chide them. At one point, she told them to "grow up," which provoked fury from the crowd.

In the above video, students can be heard asserting the view that principles of free speech gave them the right not to merely ask questions or protest the event, but to ceaselessly interrupt the speakers. When Stith accused the students of "disrupting the free speech of the speakers," the students fired back that "you're disrupting us."

The Free Beacon has more:

The protesters proceeded to exit the event—one of them yelled "Fuck you, FedSoc" on his way out—but congregated in the hall just outside. Then they began to stomp, shout, clap, sing, and pound the walls, making it difficult to hear the panel. Chants of "protect trans kids" and "shame, shame" reverberated throughout the law school. The din was so loud that it disrupted nearby classes, exams, and faculty meetings, according to students and a professor who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Ellen Cosgrove, the associate dean of the law school, was present at the panel the entire time. Though the cacophony clearly violated Yale's free speech policies, she did not confront any of the protesters.

At times, things seemed in danger of getting physical. The protesters were blocking the only exit from the event, and two members of the Federalist Society said they were grabbed and jostled as they attempted to leave.

"It was disturbing to witness law students whipped into a mindless frenzy," Waggoner said. "I did not feel it was safe to get out of the room without security."

Police officers eventually arrived to escort the panelists out of the building. Their presence made the students even angrier; nearly 400 current law students signed an open letter accusing Yale of putting the lives of the LGBTQ community in danger, ostensibly 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 discerning when it comes to applying such labels.)

"Understandably, a large swath of YLS students felt that FedSoc's decision to lend legitimacy to this hate group by inviting its general counsel to speak at YLS profoundly undermined our community's values of equity and inclusivity at a time when LGBTQ youth are actively under attack in Texas, Florida, and other states," the letter reads. "We write today because, in addition to the deeply disrespectful presence of ADF on campus and the faculty moderator's dismissal of our peaceful action as childish, armed police officers were called into the Sterling Law Building in response to our exercise of peaceful protest."

Students have every right to oppose the presence of police on campus, of course. And they should feel free to protest anyone whose legal advocacy is hostile to the LGBTQ community; certainly, the ADF has taken positions that can be characterized that way. But law students should be able to grapple with those positions. They can't silence every person who tries to express a view they disagree with, and they shouldn't come away from law school with the impression that it's constructive to avoid engaging whatsoever with ideological opponents. Again, as the Supreme Court case in question demonstrates, trials can make for strange bedfellows, and even lawyers who quarrel passionately must nevertheless understand one another, and show respect.

"Future lawyers should have the critical thinking skills, intellectual curiosity, humility, and maturity to engage with ideas and legal principles that they may disagree with," said Waggoner in a statement, according to the Yale Daily News. "Unfortunately, some students who attended the Federalist Society event refused to allow others to speak and acted in an aggressive and hostile manner towards me, Professor Kate Stith, and Monica Miller from the American Humanist Association."

This kerfuffle at Yale comes two weeks after a similar incident at U.C. Hastings, where law students prevented Ilya Shapiro, a libertarian-conservative legal expert, from debating Rory Little, a U.C. Hastings law professor and progressive thinker. The next generation of attorneys, judges, and justices are certainly not acquitting themselves very well lately. It's difficult not to sympathize with Stith's frustrated declaration that perhaps they should "grow up."