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Yale Law School takes huge stand for free speech after student protest forced cops to escort speakers to safety

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Craig Warga/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken defended free speech Monday, condemning the actions of more than 100 students who ambushed and disrupted a free speech panel earlier this month.

What is the background?

On March 10, the Yale Federalist Society hosted a bipartisan panel on free speech and civil liberties. The panel included representatives from the progressive American Humanist Association and the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom.

Nearly 120 students protested the event, disrupting the panel with jeers and shouts. One student even told a member from ADF that she would "literally fight you, bitch." The student protesters reportedly blocked the only exit out of the room, which forced officials to summon police officers to escort the panelists from the building once the event had concluded.

"It was disturbing to witness law students whipped into a mindless frenzy," Kristen Waggoner of ADF said. "I did not feel it was safe to get out of the room without security."

What did Gerken say?

In a letter sent to all Yale Law School faculty and students on Monday, Gerken made it clear anti-free speech antics will not be tolerated at nation's top law school.

Gerken described the behavior as "unacceptable" and said "at a minimum it violated the norms of this Law School."

"This is an institution of higher learning, not a town square, and no one should interfere with others’ efforts to carry on activities on campus," Gerken explained. "YLS is a professional school, and this is not how lawyers interact.

"We are also a community that respects our faculty and staff who have devoted their lives to helping students. Professor Kate Stith, Dean Mike Thompson, and other members of the staff should not have been treated as they were," the dean continued. "I expect far more from our students, and I want to state unequivocally that this cannot happen again. My administration will be in serious discussion with our students about our policies and norms for the rest of the semester."

"As Dean, I am deeply committed to our free speech policies and the values they safeguard. I will protect free speech without fear or favor," Gerken declared.

Anything else?

Two days after the incident, a majority of the Yale Law School student body — 416 students — signed an open letter declaring their support for "peaceful student protesters" and condemning the presence of police officers.

"The danger of police violence in this country is intensified against Black LGBTQ people, and particularly Black trans people," the letter said, in part. "Police-related trauma includes, but is certainly not limited to, physical harm. Even with all of the privilege afforded to us at YLS, the decision to allow police officers in as a response to the protest put YLS's queer student body at risk of harm."

Students remain upset over the police presence.

"There has been very little communication from the administration on the school’s policy with regards to calling armed police on nonviolent protesters, despite the fact that over half of the student body has signed on to an open letter seeking clarity on that front," student Henry Robinson told the Yale Daily News.

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