After Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys sent a letter requesting that Virginia Commonwealth University make amends for a previous Students for Life event in which the University failed to protect students’ free speech rights by allowing a violent mob to disrupt and ultimately cancel it, VCU administrators extended an invitation to Students for Life at VCU to bring Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, back to speak on campus. The University also provided the necessary security for the event to take place unhindered.
On March 29, Students for Life at VCU, a registered student organization, hosted a Pro-Life event on campus featuring guest speaker Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. As soon as the event began, a violent mob of students, many of whom identified themselves as “Antifa” through words or signs, quickly filled the room, blocking the event doors and shouting profanities in an endless loop to drown out any conversation.
Despite repeated calls to campus police, officers only arrived 27 minutes later, during which time the mob turned violent and caused damage to audiovisual equipment. Additionally, Students for Life members were assaulted and shoved, resulting in multiple physical injuries that required EMTs to be called to the scene.
When the VCU police arrived, they failed to fulfill their duty to enforce the law, protect the assaulted students and ensure that their rights were not violated. Instead, the officers asked Kristan Hawkins to leave the event, which she refused. They then detained SFL-VCU members in a separate locked room for almost two hours while allowing the activists who caused the disturbance to leave or continue to disrupt the event as they pleased.
In the letter sent to VCU administrators, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys said VCU’s actions in response to the March 29 disturbance stood in marked contrast to its policy on “Reservation and Use of Space,” which notes VCU’s commitment “to creating an environment that fosters the exercise of protected speech and other expressive activity on university property while maintaining an atmosphere free of disruption to the mission of the university.”
They further stated that VCU had failed in its constitutional duty to protect free speech by failing to take “reasonable action” to protect the free speech rights of SFL-VCU, by failing to respond promptly to the calls it received concerning an ongoing, violent disturbance at the event, and by failing to take any action to quell the disruption and protect SFL-VCU’s and SFLA’s rights when campus police did finally arrive.
ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, says most American universities say they value free speech, but actions speak louder than words. “After Virginia Commonwealth University failed the first time to uphold students and speakers’ First Amendment rights, the administration did the right thing by welcoming Ms. Hawkins back to campus and providing adequate security for the pro-life event,” Langhofer said.
Alliance Defending Freedom is alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, marriage and family, and the sanctity of life.
ADF Church Alliance and ADF Ministry Alliance are ministry arms of Alliance Defending Freedom which provide personalized legal assistance and guidance to help protect and defend the religious freedom and First Amendment rights of churches and ministries in an increasingly anti-faith culture.