Sessions Condemns 'Political Correctness' On College Campuses

Sep 26, 2017
Originally published on September 26, 2017 5:36 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had some things to say today about the intense national debate over protest and free speech. Instead of stadiums, though, Sessions focused on college campuses. NPR's Ryan Lucas has more.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: In a 20-minute speech at Georgetown Law in Washington, D.C., Jeff Sessions made clear where he stands in the fraught debate over free speech that has roiled college campuses in recent years.

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JEFF SESSIONS: Freedom of thought and speech on American campus are under attack. 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.

LUCAS: Sessions described a world in which protesters have shouted down speakers whose viewpoints they oppose. He pointed to an incident at Middlebury College in Vermont as an example. University administrators, Sessions said, are letting protesters silence minority viewpoints.

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SESSIONS: In other words, the school favors the hecklers' disruptive tactics over the speakers' First Amendment rights.

LUCAS: He said the Justice Department will file a brief in a college free-speech case this week. And he vowed to file more in the future. On the steps outside, around 150 Georgetown students and faculty demonstrated against the attorney general. They said they were disinvited from the event because they hold views opposed to those of Sessions. The protesters were dressed in black. And they held placards and led rounds of protest chants.

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LAUREN PHILLIPS: (Chanting) We have questions for Jeff Sessions.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) We have questions...

LUCAS: This is Lauren Phillips, a second-year student who helped organize the protest.

PHILLIPS: We think it's incredibly ironic that the attorney general wants to come here to talk about free speech but is excluding dissenting voices and potentially dissenting questions from his speech.

LUCAS: Another student, Ravan Austin, said Sessions had it all backwards.

RAVAN AUSTIN: The main point that I think that we're trying to push out here is that we're not saying that he doesn't have a right to speak. That's absolutely not the message. But the message is if you're going to talk about free speech, then allow free speech to everyone.

LUCAS: Ryan Lucas, NPR News, Washington.

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