Sessions says free speech ‘under attack’ on college campuses

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions says Justice Department will intervene on behalf of people who sue colleges claiming their free speech rights were violated. | AP Photo

WASHINGTON — Decrying what he sees as political correctness run amok, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday the Justice Department will support students who sue universities claiming their free speech rights were violated.

But during the same speech at Georgetown University’s law school, Sessions condemned the NFL players who have been exercising their freedom of expression by kneeling silently during the national anthem before games.

“They can express their political views without in effect denigrating the symbols of our nation,” Sessions said.

In declaring free speech “under attack” on college campuses, Sessions dove into an issue that has become a cause celebre for conservatives who argue their voices are being drowned out on college campuses as speeches by right-wing figures have been derailed by protests and threats of violence.

Demonstrations erupted this week at the University of California, Berkeley, around a planned four-day conservative event dubbed Free Speech Week, which was suddenly canceled.

“The American university was once the center of academic freedom, a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas,” Sessions told an invitation-only audience, as nearly 200 students gathered in protest outside. A few others sat in the auditorium with duct tape over their mouths. “But it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.”

He lamented what he described as a “cottage industry of protesters who have quickly learned that school administrators will capitulate to their demands.”

“Protesters are now routinely shutting down speeches and debates across the country in an effort to silence voices that insufficiently conform with their views,” he said.

As he spoke, the Justice Department announced it would lend its support to a student who sued Georgia Gwinnett College, arguing his rights were violated when administrators limited where he could preach Christianity on campus.

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