DOJ Joins Fight for Free Speech on College Campuses

Demonstrators rally for the removal of a Confederate statue coined Silent Sam on the campus of the University of Chapel Hill

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that his Justice Department will enter the legal fight over free speech on college campuses, as he delivered a blistering speech at Georgetown University Law Center declaring freedom of thought and speech is "under attack".

During his lecture-heard by an invite-only crowd pre-selected to "ensure a sympathetic audience"-Sessions defended President Donald Trump's attacks on National Football League players protesting police brutality and racial inequities, saying: "The president has free speech rights too".

"I would condemn their actions", Sessions said of the protesting athletes. But the freedom of every individual player is paramount under the Constitution, it's protected, and we have to protect it.

"We did not screen people for political views", he later told reporters, adding that the speech was livestreamed so more people could listen.

Some of the roughly 100 protesters who gathered outside Georgetown's law school wore duct tape over their mouths.

In his speech, Sessions lamented American universities "transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos".

He lamented what he described as a "cottage industry of protesters who have quickly learned that school administrators will capitulate to their demands".

"The President has free speech rights, too", Sessions said, following a speech at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington. "In other words, the school favors the heckler's disruptive tactics over the speaker's First Amendment rights".

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He argued the players were, in effect, "denigrating" symbols of the U.S., and noted that while players wouldn't be subject to prosecution, they could expect condemnation for taking "provocative" actions.

"You can not invite people who so thoroughly threaten the basic premises of American law to a campus and not speak up if your mission in life is to educate people about the American legal system".

Sessions mocked the University of California Berkeley for offering "counseling" to students whose "sense of safety or belonging" was threatened by a speech from one speaker, Ben Shapiro.

In March, a Middlebury College professor was hurt and hospitalized after protests outside the speech of a conservative political scientist. "Adhering to the First Amendment requires more than rhetoric". Comey resumed his speech after about 10 minutes, saying, "I love the enthusiasm of the young folks, I just wish they would understand what a conversation is".

Ahead of Sessions' address, a group of more than 30 Georgetown law professors signed onto a letter condemning what they called "the hypocrisy" of Sessions' appearance.

"We, the disinvited, find it extraordinarily hypocritical that AG Sessions would lecture future attorneys about free speech on campus while excluding the wider student body", law student Ambur Smith said into a bullhorn. "The American university was once the center of academic freedom - a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas".

Sessions's own campus visit Tuesday was in a controlled environment. More than 130 GULC students had their tickets revoked and were refused access to the event. Both policies, she said, are in line with university policy "given limited capacity". He also announced that the Department of Justice had issued a statement of interest in a campus free speech case, promising that they will "defend free speech".

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