Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III visited the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. today in order to give a lecture on Freedom of Speech.
The attorney general–or perhaps the law school administration–has a somewhat picayune concept of that notion, however, as over 100 student protesters were barred from attending the event. Those students had initially signed up for the event, and then received invites, only to later have those invitations revoked.
Law student Greyson Wallis spoke to the Washington Post about the dis-invitation. She said:
It seemed like they were rescinding those invites because they didn’t want any sort of hostile environment, and I can understand not wanting to have a violent environment, but that’s not at all what we were trying to do. We’re law students. We all just wanted to hear what he had to say and let him know where we differ from his opinions.
Lauren Phillips, one of the student organizers of the protest, took her criticism even further, telling NPR, “It’s incredibly ironic that the attorney general wants to come here to talk about free speech but is excluding dissenting voices and potentially dissenting questions from his speech.”
As Sessions read prepared remarks about plans to “defend free speech,” as attorney general, some students managed to silently protest him inside the auditorium by duct-taping their mouths shut.
Meanwhile, hundreds of students and dozens of law professors protested the speech as well–standing outside the building with signs and chanting through bullhorns as Sessions spoke.
The outside protest began with attendees taking a knee in an apparent nod of solidarity to embattled NFL players who have picked up the protests started by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the 2016 NFL season.
During a question-and-answer session after the speech, Sessions was asked to address those protests–aimed at addressing police brutality and racism–occurring during the national anthem at NFL games. He then defended President Trump’s controversial comments and said:
The players aren’t subject to any prosecution, but if they take a provocative act, they can expect to be condemned. The president had a right to condemn them, and I would condemn their actions, not them as a human being. People have a right to register their opinions, to protest, to criticize in any number of ways. I guess it’s up to the owners and the people who create these games and pay for the ballfields to decide what you can do on a ballfield. But the freedom of every individual player is paramount under the Constitution, it’s protected, and we have to protect it. I think that is not a contradiction there.
Tanya Weinberg, a spokesperson for the law school, told The Post that “At events like today’s, we designate protest areas to allow free expression on campus in a manner that upholds safety and security and minimizes potential disruptions to learning. Additionally, students in the auditorium were allowed to protest in a way that did not disrupt the event.”
Update: A statement was added from Georgetown Law School.
[image via screengrab]