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Sessions: DOJ will support students in campus free speech cases

27 September, 2017, 00:50 | Author: Paula Vaughn
  • Jeff Sessions

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions thrust himself into the hot button issue of free speech on Tuesday, telling an audience at the Georgetown University Law Center that "freedom of speech and thought is under attack" at American universities and colleges.

Asked his opinion on Trump's comments that NFL players should be fired for kneeling during the national anthem - a protest against police brutality against black Americans - Sessions defended the president.

"An opportunity to express our freedom of speech today was taken from us", on speaker told those gathered outside of the Georgetown auditorium.

"We invite Jeff Sessions to practice what he preaches and face our questions on his department's policies". But in at least one row, students sat silently in black with duct tape over their mouths.

American higher education, he said, "is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogeneous thought".

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

He announced the Justice Department would submit a statement of interest in a campus free speech lawsuit and said he anticipated more such moves soon.

Sessions told the audience of about a hundred at the Georgetown University Law Center that free-speech rights bar the prosecution of any demonstrating players, but that does not immunize them from criticism.

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"We are protesting against his and the Trump Administration's views on free speech". "We want people to understand what the First Amendment means".

He acknowledged that players have the right to protest but that they should "expect to be condemned" for provocative acts. "Our records indicate that you were not part of the Center [for the Constitution]'s student invitation list, which includes student fellows of the Center (students who signed up to attend events sponsored by the Center) and students enrolled in the classes taught this semester by the Center's Director, Professor Randy Barnett".

Outside of the hall where the event was held, roughly 100 students and faculty members protested Sessions' presence on campus. At Middlebury College in Vermont in March, protests outside the speech of a conservative political scientist devolved into a shoving match that left one professor hospitalized. Sessions was adamant: "The president has free speech rights too". "I would condemn their actions", but not them personally, he continued.

There are ways to protest without "denigrating the symbols of our nation", Sessions said.

Sessions spoke at the Georgetown Center for the Constitution, an academic institute that "offers a variety of programs on constitutional law and theory" with "special emphasis on how best to remain faithful to the Constitution's text".

The event is scheduled for noon on Tuesday and is open to the media.

Phillips, who said she was one of the students who received such a message, said that if they had been allowed to attend, they would have asked questions about the Trump administration's policies on criminal justice.

Sessions was met before his Georgetown appearance also with a statement signed by 44 members of the university law school faculty rebuking his remarks and saying that "a man who fails to recognize paradigmatic violations of the First Amendment is a poor choice to speak about free speech on campuses".

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