Jeff Sessions: Colleges, universities that stifle free speech are ‘bullies’
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday vowed the Justice Department will not back down against college and university campuses that he says are stifling free speech, comparing the schools to bullies who have “gone too far.”
“This has gone too far,” Mr. Sessions said of campuses limiting expressions of speech. “It must end. This country protects noisome assembly, immoderate speech and provocative speech. Whether left or right. Suppression of competing voices is not the American way. We have reached a pivotal, perhaps even a historic, moment. It is time to stand up to the bullies on campus and in our culture.”
The attorney general’s remarks came during the Justice Department’s Forum on Free Speech in Higher Education, which was held Monday to coincide with the same date as the ratification of the Constitution.
Free speech on college campuses has become a polarizing issue over the past year. Multiple planned university appearances by conservative speakers have been cancelled. Last year, University of California, Berkeley canceled an event with Ann Coulter and David Horowitz because of student protests.
Two conservative student groups, the Berkeley College Republicans and Young America’s Foundation sued the school. They alleging Berkeley adopted a double standard, applying a more restrictive set of rules to conservative speakers. Mr. Sessions’ Justice Department filed a statement of interest in the case earlier this year.
In his speech Monday, Mr. Sessions said Berkley’s is largely known as being the home of the 1960s free speech movement.
The Berkeley case is one of four in which the Justice Department has filed a statement of interest claiming a university has blocked student’s First Amendment right to free speech.
In another case, the Justice Department intervened in a student lawsuit alleging the University of Michigan’s efforts to forbid “harassment” or “bullying” speech violated the constitutional right a Bias Response Team determined, which speech violated the school’s policies.
Within days of the Justice Department action, University of Michigan changed its policy, Mr. Sessions said, calling the move “a positive step.”
Mr. Sessions said disturbing someone’s comfort is not the standard to block a speaker from expressing their mind, noting civil rights leaders whose speech was not always welcome.
“Every great political leader in this country has ‘distributed the comfort of persons,’ ” he said. “Abraham Lincoln disturbed the comfort of slave owners. Dr. Martin Luther King disturbed the comfort of segregationists, and Susan B. Anthony disturbed the comfort of quite a number of people. Change has never been effected without disturbing the comfort of persons and likely never will.”
The attorney general ended his remarks vowing the Justice Department will “resolutely” fight for Americans who believe they have been silenced.
“There are radicals out there now that have openly and systemically justified actions that would deny Americans the right to speak out against their ideological agenda,” Mr. Sessions said. “We must put an end to this nonsense. It is time to put a stake in its heart.”