'Bipartisan free speech panel' disrupted by over 100 Yale Law School students

Late last week, a panel pertaining to free speech issues and civil liberties was disrupted by more than 100 Yale Law School students, who at one point caused police to have to escort the panelists out of the building.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

Late last week, a panel pertaining to free speech issues and civil liberties was disrupted by more than 100 Yale Law School students, who at one point caused police to have to escort the panelists out of the building.

A panel was held at the school on March 10, hosted by the Yale Federalist Society, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

The panel featured Monica Miller of the progressive American Humanist Association, as well as Kristen Waggoner of the conservative nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom.

A member of the Federalist Society told the Free Beacon that the purpose of the panel was to illustrate that a liberal atheist and a conservative Christian could find common ground on free speech issues.

"It was pretty much the most innocuous thing you could talk about," he added.

Despite this, around 120 student protesters showed up and crowded into the event space.

According to the Free Beacon: "When a professor at the law school, Kate Stith, began to introduce Waggoner, the protesters, who outnumbered the audience members, rose in unison, holding signs that attacked ADF."

The nonprofit has won several Supreme Court cases that establish religious exemptions from civil rights laws, the most famous of which was the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in 2018.

The protesters antagonized the Federalist Society members, forcing Stith to pause.

In video obtained by the Free Beacon, one protester told a member of the conservative group she would "literally fight you, b*tch."

Stith reminded the students of the university's free speech policies, which reportedly bars protest that "interferes with speakers' ability to be heard and of community members to listen."

While the protesters continued to heckle her and the panel, she told the crowd to "grow up," after several members raised their middle fingers.

While the protesters shouted that their disturbance of the panel constitutes as free speech, eventually, Stith told them that if the noise continued, "I'm going to have to ask you to leave, or help you leave."

Eventually, the protesters left the room, with one man yelling, "F*ck you, FedSoc," on the way out.

They continued to disturb the event from the hallway, chanting "protect trans kids" and "shame, shame" while they stomped, sang, and pounded the walls, even disturbing nearby classes and meetings.

"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," the Free Beacon reported.

"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."

At the conclusion of the panel, police officers arrived to escort Waggoner and Miller out of the building.

Members of the Federalist Society said that it was the Dean of Yale Law School, Heather Gerken, who called the police, not them.

Following the panel, more than 60 percent of Yale’s law students signed an open letter supporting the "peaceful student protesters," who they claimed had been placed in danger by the presence of armed police officers.

"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 stated in response to the event.

"An organic student protest emerged, and, instead of listening to student concerns, faculty told peaceful student protesters to 'grow up,' and the speaker from ADF told students that our protest did not reflect the 'civility' of the legal profession—a profession that has historically sidelined LGBTQ attorneys," it added.

"The danger of police violence in this country is intensified against Black LGBTQ people, and particularly Black trans people," the letter read. "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's queer student body at risk of harm."

The letter was signed by 417 students at the law school.

"It is unclear whether the letter's long list of signatures reflects genuine consensus or mass social pressure. In group chats, Discord posts, and emails reviewed by the Free Beacon, students sought to shame anyone who hadn't actively condemned the event," the Free Beacon reported.

"It feels wild to me that we're at this point in history and some folks are still not immediately signing a letter like this," one student wrote to her class on GroupMe. "I'm sure you realize that not signing the letter is not a neutral stance."

Shortly before the event started, students placed flyers across the room condemning those that attended it.

The flyer stated that the Southern Poverty Law Center had designated ADF as a hate group. This label was designated because they say ADF defends "the state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people."

The accusation is based on a 2015 brief the ADF filed with European Court of Human Rights, in which they argued that European Union member states should be allowed to make medical transition a prerequisite for changing one's legal gender.

On the ADF's website, they explicitly state the nonprofit "condemns forced sterilization of any person."

Stith and Miller also received letters themselves shaming them for attending the event.

The letter to Stith declared that "our protest was about you" and accused Stith of giving "a platform to ideas that deny our full personhood."

The letter to Miller was emailed to her before the panel urging her not to participate in it, and was signed by 150 law students.

"We are at a loss to understand why the [American Humanist Association] … has decided to legitimize an organization that is so actively hostile to queer flourishing," the email said. "We urge you to withdraw from this event, which is little more than a thinly-disguised slap in the face to Yale Law's queer students and their allies."

Miller told the Free Beacon that she was shocked at the letter in part because the Supreme Court case she was speaking about had been hailed as a victory for civil rights groups.

"As lawyers, we have to put aside our differences and talk to opposing counsel," she told the Free Beacon. "If you can't talk to your opponents, you can’t be an effective advocate."

"Yale Law students are our future attorneys, judges, legislators, and corporate executives," Waggoner said. "We must change course and restore a culture of free speech and civil discourse at Yale and other law schools, or the future of the legal profession in America is in dire straits."


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