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After protestors stopped pro-life leader Kristan Hawkins from speaking at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) earlier this year, VCU officials invited her back and this time provided the strong security that was needed when protestors again tried to shut down her presentation.
In March, Hawkins was prepared to give her “Lies Pro-Choicers Believe” speech at a Students for Life of America (SFLA) chapter event at the Richmond school when pro-abortion protestors shouted and screamed for 30 minutes in order to stop her from speaking. Things turned violent and some pro-life students were injured. Hawkins at the time said, “Silencing the peaceful people because of fear of the loud and violent makes us all less safe. We will be back to ensure that free speech truly exists at VCU.”
Hawkins was invited back by VCU after letters from SFLA legal counsel and Alliance Defending Freedom demanding the university have Hawkins back and provide security to ensure protestors did not stop her from speaking again. On April 26, Hawkins returned and was again met with crude and hateful opposition from pro-abortion protestors.
Approximately 40 protestors showed up and passed out chant sheets with slogans to yell at Hawkins. One protester held a sign featuring a Satanist symbol and slogan. Some of the chants featured expletives. Others shouted,
“Kristan Hawkins, why so shy? Why do you need armed guards to hide behind?”
“Kristan Hawkins is a bigot, watch her tears flow like a spigot!”
“Snowflake Hawkins, what a loser. She can’t stand when we all boo her.”
“What do we want? Abortion rights! When do we want it? Now! And if we don’t get it? Shut it down!”
They also stacked their chairs and stood on them. SFLA claims the protestors brought personal speakers and played music and passed out ear plugs.
VCU spokesperson Michael Porter said that the university had explained the university’s rules to event organizers and protestors before the speaking engagement. Protestors would be issued a warning and if they continued to stop speakers from being heard, they would be escorted out and could face criminal charges. A sign was even posted, warning protestors that trying to stop the speakers from speaking would not be tolerated.
Porter stated, “VCU is dedicated to promoting a safe environment for students, faculty, staff and visitors to gather and speak freely in a civil manner.”
Four protestors were eventually arrested, at which point the rest of the group left.
Hawkins tweeted, “VCU police have removed Antifa from the room. Whether these shouting protesters were students or not, they are too weak in their stance on abortion to listen and consider an alternative perspective.”
ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer stated,
“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. 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.”
Protestors were allowed to shut down viewpoints they didn’t like from being voiced at the initial SFLA night. The second time, though, free speech was honored as it should have been. VCU should be commended for how it handled the event. They spoke with protestors before the event. They posted a sign telling protestors not to interrupt the event. They had police officers present to respond quickly and deter potential bad actors. They allowed protestors to be at the event, as well as to hold signs, but they would not let them stop the event. That is how free speech is meant to work.
True advocates for free speech would never say that protestors shouldn’t be allowed to protest — but, at the same time, they can’t be allowed to stop others from speaking.
There is no reason that all universities cannot follow a similar path. Too many colleges have turned their back on their mission to be a center for debate and free expression. They have appeased the mob and allowed them to use the heckler’s veto, intimidation, and violence to silence and shut down others’ opinions and viewpoints. In so doing, they have only succeeded in making the mob stronger — and done a real disservice to their students.
Instead, the message should be: Let all speak, but allow opposition to be heard — either outside an event or, if it’s done in a respectful way, inside an event.
Titus 2:6-8 says,
“Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.”
When Christians are gracious towards those who are hateful towards us it shows the truth of the Gospel. When pro-abortion protestors scream and curse and say disrespectful and untrue things about pro-lifers, and pro-lifers respond in peace, they make our point for us. The way we act reflects on our beliefs and is an outworking of those beliefs; the way others act also reflects on their beliefs and is an outworking of those beliefs.
Christians must show love, and in so doing, will show that we have been changed by God’s power. And hopefully, others will see and want to experience God’s transforming power as well.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.