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Virginia university accused of failing to protect free speech after violent mob disrupts pro-life event

The campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, located in Richmond, Virginia, on April 7, 2023.
The campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, located in Richmond, Virginia, on April 7, 2023. | The Christian Post

A Virginia-based university is accused of failing to protect the constitutionally protected rights of students and speakers after a pro-choice mob violently disrupted a pro-life event.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian conservative legal group, sent a letter on Wednesday to Virginia Commonwealth University's president and administrators on behalf of Students for Life of America and the pro-life campus group Students for Life VCU. 

According to the letter, SFL-VCU scheduled an event on March 29 called "Lies Pro-Choice People Believe" featuring SFLA President Kristan Hawkins and conservative speaker Isabel Brown. 

Before the event had begun, a crowd of protestors, some identifying themselves as members of the violent, far-left extremist group ANTIFA blocked the doors to the venue. Once people were allowed to enter, the crowd chanted things like “Fascists go home,” “Nazis go home” and “f--- pro-lifers” to drown out the speakers. 

Campus police were called multiple times, but the letter states that it took more than 27 minutes for them to respond and, by then, "the protesters had turned violent" with the hostile group "continuing angry chants, destroying audio-visual equipment, and even shoving and assaulting numerous SFL-VCU members, including the group’s student leader and a staff member filming the event. EMTs were called to the scene, as multiple students sustained physical injuries." 

The letter claims that when campus police arrived, they did not protect students who were being assaulted and did not attempt to arrest the protestors. City of Richmond police eventually arrived on the scene by moving SFL-VU members to a separate, locked room for nearly two hours, which the letter said allowed the activists “to leave or continue to disrupt as they saw fit.”

For his part, VCU President Michael Rao released a statement last Saturday denouncing the protesters' actions, noting that the two individuals who were arrested for disrupting the event were not connected to the university.

"The overwhelming majority of events at VCU take place without incident, and we are very disappointed that a student organization's meeting was disrupted. Speakers or groups who are invited guests on our campus deserve the right to complete their remarks in a respectful and civil environment," Rao added. "VCU is committed to promoting a safe environment for our students, faculty, staff and visitors so that the rights of everyone to gather and speak freely in a civil manner are protected."

The ADF letter argued that Rao's statement did not reflect VCU’s actions on the night of the event, noting that the university did not attempt to stop the violent disruptions.

“Rather than protect the right of free speech, VCU facilitated the disruption and then ratified and condoned it by detaining the hosts rather than the disruptors and by breaking up the event entirely,” the letter stated. 

The ADF is calling on VCU to invite the speakers back to campus before the end of the semester, cover the damages sustained to property and students, provide adequate security and release a written statement affirming the university’s commitment to free speech.

The Christian Post reached out to Virginia Commonwealth University and President Michael Rao for this story, with the university responding on Friday with a brief statement:

"At VCU, speakers who are invited guests on our campus deserve the right to complete their remarks in a respectful, civil environment. The overwhelming majority of events on campus take place without incident. There are no additional updates to share about the March 29 event at this time," they stated. 

“Virginia Commonwealth University allowed a Heckler’s Veto to disrupt a peaceful pro-life presentation conversation planned by students at the school,” stated Hawkins in an ADF press release on Thursday.

“Threats and violence ended the event, which is an injustice the school can begin to correct by inviting me back and properly protecting myself and the students who will gather, as we must ensure that students are safe on campuses.”

In an uncensored March 30 video posted on SFLA’s YouTube channel, protestors can be seen shouting and holdings signs that read, “Pro-forced birth is anti-life” and “bans off our bodies.” 

Hawkins is also heard asking security why they’re not attempting to stop the disruption, with security later intervening after the crowd started assaulting an audience member. Near the end of the video, Brown shared how she and Hawkins had to be removed from the room. 

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: samantha.kamman@christianpost.com. Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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