During Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ speech at Georgetown University on Tuesday, he said that his Justice Department will enter the legal fight over free speech on college campuses.
“Starting today, the Department of Justice will do its part in this struggle. We will enforce federal law, defend free speech, and protect students’ free expression from whatever end of the political spectrum it may come,” Sessions told an audience of Georgetown students.
While Sessions was giving his speech, the Justice Department simultaneously filed a statement of interest in a free-speech case siding with students who said their rights were limited.
“We will be filing more in the weeks and months to come,” Sessions said.
The case mentioned in Tuesday’s speech was initially filed by students at Georgia Gwinnett College to challenge a policy limiting student expressive activity to two small “free-speech zones.”
The Justice Department argued that the college’s speech policies were not one-sided and were not “narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest.”
“A national recommitment to free speech on campus and to ensuring First Amendment rights is long overdue,” Sessions said.
A group of 30 Georgetown law professors condemned Sessions’ appearance, signing onto a letter which described him as a hypocrite.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a key cabinet member in an administration headed by a President who spent last weekend denouncing athletes engaged in free expression and calling for them to be fired,” the professors wrote Monday night.
The professors went on to cite other examples of why they think Sessions is unfit to deliver this address, including his department’s prosecution of a protester who disrupted his confirmation hearings.
In the question-and-answer exchange after Sessions’ remarks, the attorney general defended the president’s “free speech rights.”
“The president has free speech rights too. He sends soldiers out every day to defend this country, under the flag of the United States, under the national anthem,” Sessions said. “I agree there is a big mistake to protest in that fashion because it weakens the commitment we have to this nation that has provided us this freedom.”
Sessions added that while the players obviously are not subject to prosecution, they should be prepared to be condemned if they pursue a “provocative act.”
But in his prepared speech, Sessions focused solely on the issue of free speech on college campuses.
“The American university was once the center of academic freedom—a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas,” Sessions said. “But it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.”
He added: “I promise you that no issue is better decided with less debate, indifference, and with voices unheard.”