Attorney General Sessions on Campus Free Speech CSPAN July 24, 2018 11:30pm-12:07am EDT
the votes. watch live on c-span watch anytime on c-span.org or listen with the free c-span radio app. the nation's chief law enforcement officer attorney general jeff sessions spoke about three -- free speech on campus -- college campuses to a group of high school students. >> great to be with you. you made my morning, i have to say. [ cheering ] thank you for that introduction. kyle, thank you for your
gumption and your commitment in using the great talents that you have to advance common sense conservative values that i know you and i share. conservatives means a lot of things, the editor of the american spectator, a conservative journal for many years, i started reading it in college, in law school, but he said conservatism is a cast of mines. it is a way of looking at things. being a little cautious sometimes and not -- and not unassuming as some or many of the people today, if they can remake history, and the world can be entirely different, a few years from now, history doesn't tell us that is not going to happen. we need to be cautious about things and sometimes. i just would say to you, i am proud of you, that you would
work hard to prepare yourself for the challenges in college. because it is a different world there. sometimes one we have been and and i want to say -- [ cheering ] a lot of people love the way sandra thinks. don't you? kanye west, he likes that. he's got the same kind of energy that he said the president has, i have to say. actually that is a very good description of the president of the united states. the man has extraordinary energy. he has been gifted with it, it allows him to be a constant leader every single day, night and day. he is battling the things that i think you and i believe in, conservatives have
sound principles, putting the country back on the right track. defending who we are, defending our success as a nation. the freedom, prosperity that this nation has provided for americans of all races and creeds. we don't need to apologize. we need to defend an advocate for the values that have made us great. don't you think? i think so. i understand you will be hearing from jason miller, my friend and former colleague, senator perdue who sat with me on the just -- judiciary committee and we battled together on a lot of important issues. i think it is a fabulous opportunity for you. i am pleased to be in my home state of alabama, it is well represented today. i want to give a warm welcome to michael byers and buck owen,
i visited buckhorn high school, it is a great high school. and very innovative offices. and we have clemens high school in jonathan stuck cool of providence. they will be in alabama. it is inspiring to me to see so many of you here, so many young people are committed to battling for the future of the republic that we hold dear. [ cheering ] i was about to -- when i got involved in politics, i don't really know how, nobody in my family was particularly involved. i had a couple of high school teachers, one taught government and her brother taught english. mr. dickey. one of the most formative people
in my life. he was a brilliant man. i grew up on a farm, fought in world war ii, was a fabulous student of literature and he had conservative values. he said to me one day, sessions, you are a good young guy, you've got a future ahead of you. you need to be armed before you get to college. they will lead you astray if you don't watch it. you need to be prepared. so he encouraged me to read the conservative national review. so every two weeks, i would wake up -- break up my $9 and started reading it with my dictionary. william buckley was such a brilliant commentator and great group of writers that he assembled. when the trends were going the other way, the big government trends went full force and they
were just a little group of intellectuals that appealed to me. and captured my imagination. i was interested in it. i kept up with it. you wouldn't be here if you didn't have some of the same approaches to life. they said it was such a tough time, really in many ways,'s conservatism had left that's less influence than it does today. truly. so they thought they were standing before history and battling against the forces that seemed to be inevitable. the liberals tended to gain every year. things began to change, i got the liberal arts college in montgomery and we formed the first young republicans club ever formed and that college.
i had gotten excited about barry goldwater some years before. i was able to tell mr. buckley later that when i met him as a united states senator that you warped my brain when i was in high school and i haven't changed since. that's the way i feel about it. we took -- we were facing in many ways circumstances similar to yours, although i don't think the hostility was as great as it is today on college campuses from what i hear. they were tolerant of us but politically, winning elections in alabama was very difficult. there weren't many republicans in the south, especially alabama. from 1874 to 1987, 113 years, the governor of alabama was
always a democrat. from 1879-1981, both our senators were democrats. only two republicans were elected to the senate in 140 years. 1994, i became the first republican since reconstruction period to be elected attorney general and alabama. [ cheering ] i am telling you this, we should think about it. you get to that you get the picture. we were outnumbered, the odds were stacked against us. we worked hard and battled away. we campaigned, i remember campaigning for the governor -- a candidate for governor, my wife and a group of us went to the state fire -- fire to pass out bumper stickers. we were supporting a very
articulate and dynamic republican candidate against george wallace and his wife lurline. the segregationist. we were excited about it, we thought good things might happen. but it crushed the republican party in that election and continue to do so for a number of years. but we did not quit. we continued to battle. in college, and law school, when i was in private practice, working as an assistant united states attorney. being appointed by ronald reagan to be united states attorney. we tried to stand firm for the values that you and i share. even though it was a difficult time, and now both senators in the entire state legislature and governmental apparatus and upper -- in alabama and all nine members independently elected to the supreme court, every state office virtually is a republican.
and a conservative. [ cheering ] i want to commend you for having the gumption to stand up, you got support at home, you have support in your friends. in college, you will need to be strong. they do suggest that you find a magazine like the national review or the weekly standard or american spectator and read it every time. cover to cover. it is an educational thing because these are intellectuals that are conservative, who have been through the work, many have had decades of experience. you will pick up the nuances in many ways it will make you more effective when you are trying to defend your values in college than otherwise would be the case. i encouraged that. unfortunate, some elements in our society today want to stop you and they want to style the debate, not with backs or
better arguments, they want to stop you from being there at all. they want you to feel outnumbered, they want you to get discouraged, they want you to quit. that's what they want. they want you to abandon your values. do not do it. stand strong for what you believe. teach your studies and prepare yourself, to defend those values effectively. whether you realize it or not, i think most of you may, freedom of thought and speech on american campus is under attack today. of all places. [ cheering ] the college campus should beware debate and discussion should be appreciated , honored but nowhere has their been more arbitrary and capricious restrictions on free speech than in the supposedly
educational institutions of this country. amazing to me. many political activists try to intimidate people into silence. back in october, a black lives matter group that -- at william and mary took down the aclu for being on the first amendment. they chanted liberalism is white supremacy. and aclu, you protect hitler speech. that is the kind of -- the aclu doesn't mind calling other people names, they probably didn't like being called that name. in middlebury college, a student protester violently shut down a debate between an invited speaker and one of the schools on professors. as soon as the event began, the protester shouted for 20
minutes. they shouted. preventing the debate on a subject of importance. people in masks, pulled fire alarms, surrounded the speakers, again physically assault them and although the protesters were group of leftist, it was the liberal professor who ended up in the hospital. she said she feared for her life. this is at middlebury college. it should be clear that the first amendment is not a part of an issue, constitutional rights for all american -- americans exist, not just for those of one party, or one faction, indeed a crackdown on speech crosses creeds, races, issues and religion. at brown university, a speech to promote transgender rights was canceled after students protested because a jewish group cosponsored the election.
virginia tech disinvited a conservative african-american speaker because he had written on race issues and they worried about protests. it might disrupt the event. this is not in the great tradition of america. these trends are very disturbing. far too many schools are complicit to prevent genuine debate and engagement with ideas. through things such as trigger warnings about micro-aggression. they have -- faith spaces, offshore exams, therapy goes, grade inflation. many schools are coddling on people and actively preventing them from scrutinizing the validity of their beliefs and the issues of the day. that is the exact opposite of
what we expect of our universities and this country. after the 2016 elections, for example, they found a cry in at cornell -- i hope they had plenty of tissues for them. [ laughter ] they had therapy dogs at the university of kansas and play-doh and coloring books at the great university of michigan. for heaven sakes. i thought that was, give me a break. students at tufts were encouraged to draw out their feelings. i can tell this group isn't going to have to have plato when you get attacked in college, you will be involved in a debate, you will stand up and defend yourselves. and the values that you believe in. [ cheering ] i like this bunch, i have to tell you. you are not going to be backing down. go get them, go get him.
rather than moaning, [ chanting ] i heard that a long time over the last campaigned. rather than molding a generation of well-informed adults, some schools are doing everything they can to create a generation of sanctimonious, sensitive, supercilious snowflakes. we are not going to have it. [ cheering ] that is a disservice to the students and a disservice to the nation.'s beach -- students are challenging ideas is a key aspect of the problem. last year the foundation for
individual rights in education surveyed 450 colleges and universities across this country and found that 40% maintained speech codes that substantially infringed on constitutionally protected speech. the public colleges that were surveyed, 41 -- fully one third, one third had written policies banning disfavored speech. freedom of speech is a decisive issued today, you will be involved in it. it is important. not just for students, it is important for our society as a whole. we cannot have free and deliberative government without freedom of thought. this is a whole thing about the formation of this government. in recent years, it is come to me that the basic philosophy of our founders, they believe that
it it is such a thing as objective truth. they had free speech, the right to assemble, and debate, they had speech on the floors of the congress, you can even be sued for what you say on the for the congress. their whole idea and jury trials -- where you cross- examine witnesses, to get the witnesses and the jury picks that. and they figure out -- figure out what the truth is. and they render a true and just for day. the same thing that is supposed to happen in congress. the american people in congress would debate, the truth would arrive and a representative would do the right thing. this is the whole foundation of the american policy and the american republic. it is entirely a rejection of the autocratic kingship, dominated system that many of them had come from. we cannot have deliberative government without freedom of thought. we cannot have freedom of
thought without freedom of religion. the father of our constitution, james madison put it this way, freedom of speech is the only effectual guardian of every other right. if we cannot speak freely, we cannot exercise other rights. if you can control, dominate, the way people talk then you can control the way people think. that is not the american tradition. [ applause ] it is not, i have to tell you, a surprise that some people want to control the way we think. and talk. our founders had a deep understanding of human nature. they foresaw that this would be a problem. if people in power would want to block those out of power and
to contain them because they didn't want criticism. they didn't want people to challenge what they are doing. that is what officials, powerful people in government, instinctively tend to do. they think they are right, they think other people are wrong, and they don't like hearing criticism. this is america, right? we got the right to criticize. i would say to you -- [ applause ] center -- senator mcconnell who is been a great champion of free speech in america, has given great thought to it. his long career in the senate, he has been very strong about it. he said whenever they pass a campaign bill, a finance bill or some other bill, it is always protect the incumbent. these are the people who passed
it. when the dust settles, it is strengthening the incumbent. that is not what we believe in, giving an unfair advantage of people in office. so we want to defend the robust protections of the constitution. freedom of speech is precious and it is rare in the world, i have been around the world, i was a member of the armed services committee for 20 years. we tried so hard, so hard to get out of -- get other countries in the world to adopt our constitutional order. i have been in speaking and debating and i followed the rules and have an independent court system. and except rulings whether we like them or not. that kind of tradition is so powerful but it is not out there. it is not so valuable in the world today. it is not hard to achieve, only a few countries have ever achieved what we have been able to do here today. i believe that we have a
responsibility to honor our constitution. it is an incredibly important document. we have the longest existing constitution in the world. no country has been able to maintain a stable government on their one existing constitution, anything like as long as we have been able to do. we have a responsibility to honor it, to preserve this heritage, a conservative thing. friends, it is conservative to be cautious and careful to say my goodness, we've got this wonderful constitution. it is protecting us. [ cheering ] very few people in the world have anything like it. we have got to defend it and the heritage and the freedom and the prosperity it has brought for us. i know that you will do that.
with trump strong leadership, under the department of justice, it is doing his part to protect the republic. and to protect the right of speech and debate. we will go to court, we are going to court to protect students around america and we are winning court cases. the university of california berkeley allegedly applied a stricter rules for inviting public speakers to conservative student organizations than to other groups. under the schools policy, administration appeared to have almost complete discretion over the times, places, conditions for hosting campus speakers. that discretion allowed them to apply different rules to different people in an arbitrary and capricious way. the group of students argued that that is precisely what the
university did, they alleged that by placing unrealistically burdensome requirements on conservative speakers but not on others, the school effectively discriminated against them, made it impossible for them to speak, but everyone on a college campus must have a right to speech. last month a student filed a suit against his college alleging that it prohibited him from distributing copies of the constitution. outside the designated free speech zone. on pierce college. how big was this free speech zone? 616 square feet, the size of a couple of college dorm rooms. outside that space, students did not have freedom of speech. the students sued and we join the lawsuit on his behalf. georgia gwinnett college
allegedly limited speech to just 15 1000th of a% on campus. even their students could speak freely, they had to get permission. from campus officials in advance. they could only use the free speech zone at a specified date and time, they could not say things that "might disturb the comfort of persons." have you had speakers disturbed your comfort? you have to take rolaids, watching some of these things. we are not entitled to be protected from discomfort. give me a break. under a system like that, nobody can stop anybody else from speaking their minds. merely by acting offended. anybody can do that. you can act offended and they can't speak anymore? it doesn't matter how reasonable, how peaceable or how true their speech may be, if somebody doesn't like it, then gets discomforted, then it
is forbidden? is that our policy in this country? that is exact opposite of what the first amendment demands. encouraging people to act offended to drowned out or drown out opinions if they don't agree with them, by protest, is bad for the speakers and it is bad for students. in each cases, the courts have agreed with us. a number of times, attempts to dismiss two of these cases that had mentioned where we joined in and the complaint, have been denied by judges. who have adopted justice department positions and a decision is still pending on a third case. at the end of may, we filed a statement of interest in a lawsuit against the university of michigan over their school. over there speech codes, the university for bids harassment bullying, act -- asked
motivated by violence. they also forbid speech that is conservative as demeaning, bothersome, or hurtful. these aren't legal terms. who knows what that means? it basically means that administrations can ban speech they don't like. or somebody else doesn't like. that cannot be the law in this country. but the rules -- who gets to define what these words mean? someone elected, under present -- president making $1 million in salary? that is more than coach sabin makes, goodness gracious? the university of michigan, even told students this "the most important indication of bias is your own feelings" --
rules like this sounds nice but they are very easy to abuse. these rules are enforced by a group of campus bureaucrats and campus police with the orwellian name of the bias response team. brt. that will tell you who can speak at the university of michigan campus at least at that time. students can report complaints to the brt which then will investigate them or you. brt has logged more than 150 cases in the last year. we got involved in the lawsuit against the university and i am pleased to note that the university reevaluated what they were doing and what was in the policy. they had changed it and made it substantially better. [ applause ] we are keeping getting involved and holding
public institution accountable and i believe our work is having an impact. that survey that i mentioned a moment ago from the foundation for individual rights in education, shows that the percentage of schools with speech codes has declined since last year. from 40% to 32%. that is a pretty good trend. what is not enough so we will continue to work to bring that number down. we have got to challenge this idea and the boards of trustees and the university leaders are confronted with the stark reality of what has been done in their name, i think we will continue to see progress. this is not justified what has been happening. we are reaching a historic moment after more than two centuries of defending the rights to speak freely. mostly on the hard left as you know, a cadre has openly and