Yale law students disrupt meeting, deal blow to right to free speech

By Seth Galinsky
April 11, 2022

In an attack on the right to free speech, which working people need to organize against assaults by the bosses and their government, more than 100 Yale law students disrupted a March 10 campus debate over civil liberties, which was hosted by the Yale Federalist Society.

Students who interrupted the meeting outnumbered those who came to hear the discussion. The panel included Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group, along with Monica Miller of the liberal American Humanist Association. The disrupters charge the Alliance Defending Freedom with being a “hate group” that should be shut down.

As soon as the program began, students started heckling. When Kate Stith, the law school professor who was chairing, informed them they were violating the Ivy League school’s free-speech policy, they yelled back, claiming that disrupting the meeting was exercising their right to free speech.

They continued to heckle. Stith told them to “grow up.” She said they were welcome to stay and listen to the program and ask questions in the discussion period, but otherwise they would have to leave.

After shouting some more and chanting, “protect trans kids,” all but a few of the disrupters left the room. They gathered in the hallway outside and continued to shout and bang on the walls of the room, trying to drown out the speakers. Despite this, the meeting was able to proceed. At the end, cops escorted Waggoner and Miller from the building for their protection.

The two were speaking on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of a lawsuit by Chike Unzeugbunam, a student at Georgia Gwinnett College. That school had banned Unzeugbunam from passing out religious material on campus or even speaking in a designated “free speech” zone about his beliefs.

The Federalist Society said it organized the panel discussion to show that a conservative Christian and a liberal atheist could find common ground on free-speech issues. The Alliance Defending Freedom says its goals are “protecting religious freedom, free speech, marriage and family, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.” Along with its reactionary opposition to equal rights for gays and to a woman’s right to choose whether and when to have children, it also opposes men who “identify” as woman competing in women’s sports.

Workers need discussion, debate

These are all serious questions that are being widely discussed and debated by working people.

But the disrupters wanted to bar discussion. They handed out flyers claiming, “through your attendance you are personally complicit” with the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom.

After the attack on the meeting, 417 current law students, a majority of Yale Law School’s student body, and 20 student groups signed a letter justifying the disruption and condemning college authorities for allowing the meeting to take place.

By attempting to shut down the meeting, the disrupters allowed opponents of equal rights and women’s emancipation to claim the mantle of defenders of free speech. Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen noted that “when you shout someone down, you’re not participating in argument — you are trying to prevent the argument.”

Yale Law School is not an exception. Ten days earlier, students at the University of California Hastings College of the Law successfully shut down a meeting featuring Ilya Shapiro, a professor from Georgetown Law School. Shapiro opposes nominating someone to the Supreme Court based solely on the criteria promoted by President Joseph Biden, that the person must be a Black woman.

Instead of debating Shapiro’s arguments, they pounded on desks, ridiculed his hairline and called him a coward, a racist and more. Some students at Hastings demanded the establishment of a committee of “diverse student representatives” with authority to ban future campus speakers who they disagree with.

As the class struggle heats up, these middle-class meritocratic future lawyers and judges denouncing free speech will be who working people face in court.

Working people need to oppose these moves, which undermine hard-fought conquests codified in the Bill of Rights — rights working people need to advance union and political struggles. It’s only through discussion and debate that workers and farmers can forge a road forward as we confront the impact of the bosses’ assaults on wages and conditions and the wars the rulers send us to fight and die in.