Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III visited the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday to deliver a lecture on Freedom of Speech.
He claimed that speech on college campuses is “under attack” as universities transform into shelters “for fragile egos.” Sessions’ Justice Department is currently seeking to prosecute a woman for laughing at him during a congressional hearing in January.
The Washington Post reported that over 100 student protesters were barred from attending the event. The students had initially signed up for the event and received invites, only to have their invitations revoked before the event.
“It seemed like they were rescinding those invites because they didn’t want any sort of hostile environment, and I can understand not wanting to have a violent environment, but that’s not at all what we were trying to do,” law student Greyson Wallis told the Post about the dis-invitation. “We’re law students. We all just wanted to hear what he had to say and let him know where we differ from his opinions.”
“It’s incredibly ironic that the attorney general wants to come here to talk about free speech but is excluding dissenting voices and potentially dissenting questions from his speech,” said Lauren Phillips, one of the student organizers of the protest.
Meanwhile, hundreds of students and dozens of law professors protested the speech as well–standing outside the building with signs and chanting through bullhorns as Sessions spoke.
The outside protest began with attendees taking a knee in an apparent nod of solidarity to embattled NFL players who have picked up the protests started by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the 2016 NFL season.
“The American university was once the center of academic freedom ― a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas,” Sessions told an invite-only audience at Georgetown University’s law school. “But it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.”
During a question-and-answer session after the speech, Sessions was asked to comment on NFL players’ protests during the national anthem at NFL games:
The players aren’t subject to any prosecution, but if they take a provocative act, they can expect to be condemned. The president had a right to condemn them, and I would condemn their actions, not them as a human being. People have a right to register their opinions, to protest, to criticize in any number of ways. I guess it’s up to the owners and the people who create these games and pay for the ballfields to decide what you can do on a ballfield. But the freedom of every individual player is paramount under the Constitution, it’s protected, and we have to protect it. I think that is not a contradiction there.