Sessions: Free speech under attack by political correctness

"The American university was once the center of academic freedom -- a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas. But it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogeneous thought, a shelter for fragile egos."
By Danielle Haynes  |  Sept. 26, 2017 at 3:10 PM
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Sept. 26 (UPI) -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions said freedom of speech is under attack by political correctness on U.S. campuses during remarks he made Tuesday at Georgetown Law school in Washington, D.C.

Amid demonstrations by dozens students and faculty outside the building where Sessions spoke, the attorney general talked about President Donald Trump's comments on NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, and how colleges and universities handle backlash against controversial speakers.

"Freedom of thought and speech on the American campus are under attack," Sessions said. "The American university was once the center of academic freedom -- a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas. But it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogeneous thought, a shelter for fragile egos."

He said it's not right for schools to cancel speaking engagements by divisive figures out of fear of backlash. On Aug. 15, Texas A&M University called off an event by white nationalist Preston Wiginton over safety concerns days after a deadly protest in Charlottesville, Va. And University of California, Berkeley has canceled an appearance by conservative Ann Coulter in April after sponsors withdrew from the event.

"This is not in the great tradition of America. And, yet, school administrators bend to this behavior. In effect, they coddle it and encourage it," Sessions said.

Asked his opinion on Trump's comments that NFL players should be fired for kneeling during the national anthem -- a protest against police brutality against black Americans -- Sessions defended the president.

"He sends soldiers out every day to defend this country under the flag of the United States, under the national anthem and the unity those symbols call on us to adhere to. I agree that it's a big mistake to protest in that fashion because it weakens the commitment we have to this nation," Sessions said.

"There are many ways the players have, assets they have, that they can express their views without in effect denigrating the symbols of our nation."

But Sessions said the players "aren't subject to any prosecution."

Outside McDonough Hall where Sessions spoke, students and faculty protested the fact that they were kept out of the event, The Washington Post reported.

"We, the disinvited, find it extraordinarily hypocritical that AG Sessions would lecture future attorneys about free speech on campus while excluding the wider student body," law student Ambur Smith said into a bullhorn.

Others took a knee or linked arms, mimicking on-field protests by NFL players started last year by Colin Kaepernick and embraced more widely by players throughout the league over the weekend after Trump slammed the form of protest during a speech.

Some of the demonstrators held signs declaring that "free speech is not hate speech" and that "Sessions is afraid of questions."

"A law school is a place for people to learn about the deepest principles that undergird our democratic republic," law professor Heidi Li Feldman told the Post. "Those principles are trampled upon by Attorney General Sessions, in particular, and Donald Trump."

"You cannot invite people who so thoroughly threaten the basic premises of American law to a campus and not speak up if your mission in life is to educate people about the American legal system."

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