Paul L. Caron

Monday, April 4, 2022

Unlike Dean Gerken, Professor Stith Says Law Students' Disruption Of Speaker At FedSoc Event Violated Yale’s Free Expression Policy

Following up on my previous post, A Message From Dean Gerken On The March 10 Protest:  Yale Daily News, Moderator Denounces Law School Protesters in Faculty-Wide Memo:

Yale Law Logo (2020)Law professor Kate Stith, who moderated the March 10 panel that was disrupted by student protesters, sent tenured law faculty a blistering memorandum on Thursday arguing that the students had violated Yale’s free speech policy and should be educated and potentially sanctioned. ...

The March 10 panel, hosted by the Yale chapter of the Federalist Society, featured two speakers on opposite ends of the political spectrum who spoke of their support for freedom of speech. Monica Miller, senior counsel for the progressive American Humanist Association, and Kristen Waggoner, general counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, both supported a recent civil liberties case which Waggoner had argued and won before the Supreme Court.

But about 120 student protesters took issue with Waggoner’s presence on the panel, arguing that the organization she works for aims to limit LGBTQ rights in the name of religious liberty. At the event, Miller said that her organization views ADF as a “hate group,” but emphasized the importance of proper discourse and noted that the job of a lawyer is to represent their client, and she argued a case that hinged on the results of Waggoner’s.

But audio of the panel shows that protests drowned out much of Miller’s statement. At the event, protesters stood and challenged Stith as she introduced the panelists. They left the room after Stith read aloud the University’s free speech policy, but continued to loudly make noise in the hallway. Throughout the event, students can be heard chanting, cheering, stomping and yelling outside the lecture hall, muffling, if not all but drowning out, the sounds of the speakers. At times, Stith wrote, the speakers ceased talking or listening due to the disruption.

“Any formal determination that the March protest at Yale Law School did not violate Yale’s policy on Free Expression would set a terrible precedent at Yale and elsewhere,” Stith wrote. “There is no doubt that the event in Room 127 was significantly disrupted.” ...

More than two weeks later, Dean of the Yale Law School Heather Gerken sent a strongly worded letter claiming the protesters engaged in “unacceptable” behavior, but that they did not violate Yale’s free speech policy. Three days later, Stith sent her memo outlining how the protesters had violated Yale’s free speech policy. The policy not only prohibits shutting down an event, but also “disrupting” one, including interfering with a speaker’s ability to be heard and the audience’s ability to listen.

But the protesters have continued to question the Law School’s focus on the students’ disruption rather than the decision to invite Waggoner to speak.

Aaron Sibarium (Washington Free Beacon), Yale Law Professor Takes on Dean, Calls Disruption of Free Speech Event a ‘Blatant Violation’ of School Policy:

The Yale Law School professor who attempted to keep order as protesters disrupted a panel on free speech urged her colleagues in a Thursday letter to recognize the disruption as a "blatant violation of Yale’s Free Expression policy," a statement that contradicts conclusions reached by the law school's dean. ...

"As a former prosecutor, I know well that not every violation has to be an occasion for sanctions," Stith concluded, calling the fracas an "opportunity" to educate students about free speech. "That said, we cannot make the most of this opportunity unless we recognize that a blatant violation of Yale’s Free Expression policy occurred on March 10."

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