Utah Sen. Mike Lee and A.G. Sean Reyes urge Yale Law School to punish students who protested conservative speaker

The dean of Yale Law School said the student protest did not violate the school’s free speech policy.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Attorney General Sean Reyes signed an open letter urging Yale Law School punish students who protested a conservative speaker on campus.

Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes added their names to an open letter to Yale Law School demanding punishment for students who disrupted an event featuring a conservative lawyer last month.

On March 10, about 120 Yale students protested an appearance by Kristen Waggoner, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed a hate group. Waggoner represented a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a gay wedding, a case she argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.

More than half of the school’s students signed an open letter critical of the decision by the Federalist Society to invite Waggoner to speak and condemned the presence of armed police at the protest. Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken said the protest was “unacceptable” behavior from the students but they had not violated the school’s free speech policy.

A spokesperson for Reyes quoted directly from the letter to explain why Utah’s attorney general added his name.

“What happened at Yale Law School on March 10, 2022, was disgraceful. But it creates an opportunity for you (Dean Heather Gerken and the Yale law school) to send a clear message to the country about the importance of free speech and civil discourse,” they said.

Lee’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

In addition to Lee and Reyes, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, several U.S. House of Representatives members, five governors, and more than two dozen other state attorneys general also signed on. The letter was drafted by the same group responsible for the Philadelphia Statement, a document that decries the persistence of “cancel culture’ in American society. More than 1,400 people signed the letter to Yale.

“Instead of engaging with the panelists, a shocking number of Yale Law students hurled constant insults and obscenities at them.” the letter reads.

The letter’s depiction of the event is primarily based on an initial report from the conservative Washington Free Beacon. That reporting has been credibly debunked by other publications, multiple videos and the school’s official account of the incident. Letter signers are demanding the school revise its version, so it’s more in line with the Free Beacon’s story or retract it altogether.

The incident has drawn condemnation from all corners of conservatism. Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman, a noted conservative, urged his colleagues in the judiciary to think twice before hiring any of the students who participated in the protest for clerkships, Reuters reported. The Wall Street Journal editorial board condemned the incident saying, “If these students are so blinkered by ideology that they can’t tolerate a debate over civil liberties on campus, the future of the American legal system is in jeopardy.”

Lee, Reyes and the other signatories vehemently disagreed with the decision not to sanction students for the protest and pushed school administrators to rethink that action.

“We urge you to take concrete action to correct the course of Yale Law School. Our nation desperately needs the next generation of attorneys, legislators, judges and Supreme Court justices to be marked by the character and values that undergird the American legal profession and a free society,” the letter reads.

In addition to revising or retracting the school’s account, the letter urges school officials to condemn the students’ behavior and “take appropriate disciplinary actions.”

Of late, Lee has focused on the perceived censorship of conservative voices. He and Cruz recently sent a letter to DirecTV executives asking whether the decision to ditch far-right One America News Network was politically motivated.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.