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At ADF's request, VA university gives pro-life event a proper do-over

ADF attorneys represent Students for Life at Virginia Commonwealth University
University campus

RICHMOND, Va. – In response to a letter from Alliance Defending Freedom, administrators at Virginia Commonwealth University invited Students for Life at VCU to bring Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, back to campus on April 26 and provided the necessary security to ensure the pro-life event was not stopped by a violent mob. VCU’s actions followed ADF’s request that the 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. 

“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,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Public universities violate students’ constitutionally protected freedoms when they fail to protect student speech. We urge VCU, and every public university across the country, to commit to fostering a safe and productive exchange of all ideas, rather than letting violent mobs take over campus speech.” 

“The violence of abortion is mutating into the violence of abortion supporters, which I fear will impact the free speech rights of the students I work with nationwide,” Hawkins said. “Although my earlier visit to campus ended in chaos, I wanted to go back to let women know that they have options and that we are here to help.” 

On March 29, Students for Life at VCU, a registered student organization, hosted an event on campus featuring guest speaker Hawkins. A mob of protesters, many of whom were adorned with words or signs identifying themselves as “Antifa,” disrupted the event by blocking doors and continually shouting obscenities and slurs. Despite repeated requests, campus police failed to enforce university policy or to remove the disruptive actors. The mob turned violent, destroying audiovisual equipment and shoving and assaulting numerous pro-life students. EMTs were called to the scene as multiple students sustained physical injuries. 

In their letter, ADF attorneys explained how VCU failed in its constitutional duty to protect free speech by choosing not to provide any security for the event, and failing to take sufficient action to quell the disruption and protect the pro-life students and staff who were being assaulted and whose rights were violated. 

About 40 protestors showed up to the April 26 event, but this time, police quickly responded and arrested four disruptors, prompting the rest to disband and allowing the event to proceed smoothly.

  • Pronunciation guide: Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to protecting First Amendment and related freedoms for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.

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