Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include comment from Virginia Commonwealth University and Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer.
Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) invited pro-life speaker Kristan Hawkins back to campus after she was shouted down during an on-campus event on March 29, Students for Life (SFL) announced on Tuesday.
Police officers escorted Hawkins, SFL president, and Isabel Brown, Turning Point USA contributor, from the venue after protesters at the March event became unruly, according to video posted on SFL. Hawkins will get another chance to speak on campus on April 26 after the organization’s legal counsel partnered with Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group, to send a demand letter alleging VCU did not uphold the speakers’ free speech rights, SFL reported. (RELATED: ‘Silence Equals Death’: Protest Against Riley Gaines Turns Violent, One Arrested In Scuffle)
“Hawkins looks forward to speaking peacefully and productively with pro-life and pro-abortion students — because if you can’t converse freely on a college campus, where will you be able to have these discussions?” Caroline Wharton, SFL press strategist and writer, wrote in the announcement. “If we teach students they don’t need to be civil in the classroom, we shouldn’t expect any different once they’re in their careers.”
The speech will be part of Hawkins’ 2023 spring semester college speaking tour “Lies Pro-Choicers Believe,” according to the announcement. The event is hosted by the SFL chapter at VCU, who is excited to hear Hawkins’ speech after the first attempt was cut short.
A VCU spokesperson told the DCNF that Hawkins was invited to campus by a student organization and that “speakers or groups who are invited guests on campus deserve the right to complete their remarks in a respectful and civil environment.”
“VCU is committed to promoting a safe environment for our students, faculty, staff and visitors so that the rights to gather and speak freely in a civil manner are protected,” the spokesperson said.
Despite this situation, we will not be deterred. #ProLifeGen has come to expect these sort of things.
We demand that @VCU invite @KristanHawkins & @theisabelb back, ensuring the safety of all attendees, for what we tried to attempt this evening, a productive, peaceful discussion. pic.twitter.com/zWTAGPpu2x
— Students for Life Action (@SFLAction) March 30, 2023
“In spite of the backlash and violence at the event, we gained even more pro-life members,” Autumn Walser, chapter president, said in the announcement. “Our group has almost doubled since early March as we currently have nearly 40 members. Despite the pro-abortion crowd wanting to silence us, they actually provided us great visibility.”
Walser suffered a legal injury during the March 29 event after protesters became violent while other students reported scrapes and scratches, she previously told the Daily Caller News Foundation. A member of the chapter “got hit with signs and a megaphone,” she said.
“No one should be threatened or physically assaulted for simply expressing their beliefs, but that’s exactly what happened at VCU,” Tyson Langhofer, ADF senior counsel, told the DCNF. “We are grateful to see that VCU has recognized that the violent shouting down of Students for Life event was wrong and we are glad that the university is allowing Kristan to return to campus with adequate security. Our free society depends on people who can engage in civil discourse, and we are hopeful that the free speech of all will be respected at the upcoming event.”
Brown was quick to question why they were escorted from the venue before the event was over instead of the protesters being made to leave, according to her Twitter thread. She reported that they were kept in a room for two hours while protesters “walked free & stood in line for Chick fil A.”
SFL and Walser did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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