Category Archives: Freedom of speech and expression

Everyone Loves Free Speech… In Theory

Governor Glenn Youngkin at the higher-ed summit at the University of Virginia. Photo credit: The Daily Progress

by James A. Bacon

Governor Glenn Youngkin outlined yesterday his vision for colleges and universities in Virginia as bastions of free speech and intellectual diversity where people come together to devise solutions to society’s most pressing problems.

“How do we ask serious questions and foster informed debate so we can get to answers?” he asked in a pragmatic defense of free speech in a keynote speech of a statewide higher-ed conclave held at the University of Virginia. The answer was implicit in the title of the event: the Higher Education Summit on Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity.

The summit was attended by representatives, including many presidents, of every public university in Virginia and more than half of the state’s private higher-ed institutions. The end goal of the event, said Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera in introductory remarks, was for every institution to create an “action plan” to advance the goals of free speech and intellectual diversity.

Youngkin began laying the groundwork a year ago when he addressed the Council of Presidents and pushed them toward the same goals. The Council, comprised of Virginia college and university presidents, adopted a statement endorsing free speech and intellectual diversity in the abstract. But as discussions at Wednesday’s summit made clear, there is considerable gray area in applying free speech principles in the real world. The next step is to move beyond the expression of abstract principles to putting those principles into action. Continue reading

A Note from The Jefferson Council Executive Director Jim Bacon

In case you missed it…

A Note from The Jefferson Council Executive Director Jim Bacon
November 18, 2023

Dear friend of The Jefferson Council,

Last month the Council invited best-selling author Abigail Shrier to the University of Virginia to share her findings on the transgender phenomenon. Unwilling to contest her ideas in a civil manner, transgender students and their sympathizers tried to shut her down. First, they sabotaged the event-registration process to depress sign-ups. During the event itself, more than 100 angry demonstrators pressed against the sidewalk and shouted insults and profanities at attendees entering Minor Hall. Then, as people were leaving, a group of non-students, possibly associated with Antifa, harassed and vilified attendees as they walked back to their cars.

Protestors outside The Jefferson Council event with Abigail Shrier.

Photo taken by TJC President Tom Neale on his iPhone as the protestors surrounded him screaming “You’re a F-ing fascist, F-ing racist, F-ing homophobe” and wishing death to him and his family.

This is not acceptable behavior at Mr. Jefferson’s University. Continue reading

Miyares Calls for Moral Clarity Regarding Pro-Hamas Demonstrators

Jason Miyares. Photo credit: Washington Post

by James A. Bacon

On the evening of Aug. 11, 2017, more than 300 torch-bearing white supremacists marched down the Lawn at the University of Virginia chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” The phrase is not self-explanatory, but the marchers were widely thought to be proclaiming that Jews would not displace Christian Whites as the dominant element of society. The white supremacists were not calling for the slaughter of Jews. Rather, embracing the rhetoric of victimhood and grievance that has so saturated 21st-century America, they were expressing a yearning for the good-old-days when Christian Whites ran the show.

Fast forward to Oct. 24, 2023. Hundreds of demonstrators marched down the Lawn waving Palestinian flags and chanted “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea.” Their meaning was crystal clear. They weren’t merely vilifying Jews. Just days after the horrific Hamas attacks on Israel, the protesters were demanding the eradication of the Israeli state, and they were endorsing terror against Jewish civilians as a means of achieving it. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, they were advocating genocide.  

In 2017 University officials quickly, forcefully, and quite correctly condemned the antisemitism of the Unite the Right rally. In 2023, the response to the Palestinians has been muted. Continue reading

Jefferson Council Report on Disruptions to the Shrier Event

The Jefferson Council distributed the following statement and attached report to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors this morning.

Dear Board of Visitors members,

On Oct. 11, 2023, journalist Abigail Shrier engaged in a Q&A session at the University of Virginia discussing the transgender movement in the United States. Offended by her views, transgender militants and their allies sabotaged attendance of the event, abrogated an agreement with university authorities restricting where to hold their protest, crowded the entrance to the venue at Minor Hall, berated attendees entering the event, and harassed attendees leaving the event.

In a communication to the Board in response to a letter from Jefferson Council President Tom Neale, the administration responded that some of the behavior was “disappointing,” but noted that there were “no arrests or injuries, and no property damage.” The administration found no grounds for follow-up action.

We vigorously take issue with the administration’s spin. We believe that protesters should be held to a higher standard than not causing injury or property damage. Continue reading

Strengthening Free Speech at UVa: Part II

Mary Kate Cary. Photo credit: The Miller Center

Here follows the second part of a speech delivered by Professor Mary Kate Cary to the Colonnade Club Oct. 12. Part I recounted the state of free speech at the University of Virginia. In Part II she describes what can be done to improve it. The transcript, originally published at Think Again, is republished with permission. — JAB

We’re seeing some progress lately, and we need to keep the momentum going. While there are other organizations on Grounds I cannot speak for, here are some of the organizations and initiatives I know of:

UVA’s Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry, on which I was honored to serve, produced the statement that was unanimously endorsed by Board of Visitors after classes let out in summer of 2021. As a result, many students don’t know about it. That’s why I hand it out with my syllabus every semester. I expect my students to live up to what it says, and we discuss it the first day of class. Whether you are a member of faculty or staff, a student, a parent, a friend, or a community member, you can endorse the statement at You can even do it anonymously. Continue reading

Jefferson Council Resolution on the Safety and Rights of Jews at UVa

Jefferson Council President Tom Neale has delivered the following resolution of the Council to University of Virginia president Jim Ryan and the Board of Visitors. — JAB

The Jefferson Council, by unanimous agreement of the Officers, Committee Chairs and Board of Advisors, hereby issues the following RESOLUTION supporting the rights of the Jewish students, faculty and staff at the University of Virginia to study, teach and work in safety and in an environment conducive to the free and civil exchange of ideas.

WHEREAS, the Jefferson Council was founded to promote an academic environment based on open dialogue throughout the University;

WHEREAS, on October 7, 2023, military units of Hamas, the de facto governing body of Gaza, invaded the sovereign state of Israel and intentionally targeted, murdered, tortured and/or captured approximately 1400 innocent civilians including but not limited to women, children and the elderly, all in violation of international law and the moral norms of every civilized country in the world; Continue reading

Strengthening Free Speech at UVa: Part I

Mary Kate Cary. Photo credit: The Miller Center

Mary Kate Cary, a former presidential speech writer, teaches politics at the University of Virginia and is director of Think Again, a program promoting free speech and viewpoint diversity. Addressing the Colonnade Club Oct. 12, she discussed the state of free speech at UVA and what can be done to improve it. The Jefferson Council is pleased to republish a transcript of that speech, originally published at Think Again. We have divided it into two parts, the first of which appears here. — JAB

I’m different from other faculty here at the University of Virginia: I’m an out-of-the-closet conservative who has parachuted into academia. A former White House speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, I started teaching as an adjunct professor here in 2019. In my Political Speechwriting class, my students are mostly fourth-years interested in learning persuasion and rhetoric. The class is an elective, so they self-select me … and since the waitlist is long, I select best ones from among those who have applied. I realize that’s unusual.

And I tell my students something unusual: that they will not be graded on their political views, only on their ability to deliver a well-structured, factually accurate, persuasive speech whether I agree with them or not. That shouldn’t be unusual, but it is.

I know that because the students tell me it’s unusual. Many of them have told me privately that in most of their classes — especially humanities classes — they know what they need to say to get an A. While I’m a conservative, I can tell you that some of my highest performing students have political views very different from mine. I always try to make sure I’m grading on persuasive ability, not political views. Continue reading

Updates on the Pro-Palestinian Protests

Pro-Palestinian protesters. Image credit: The Jefferson Independent.

More coverage of last week’s pro-Hamas demonstration at the University of Virginia comes from The Jefferson Independent and The Cavalier Daily. The Independent’s Peter McHugh provides a vivid  description of events, such as dueling flags — Israel’s versus Palestinian — on the steps of the Rotunda. Crying, “This is our space!” the pro-Palestinian demonstrators scuffled with the Jewish students in an unsuccessful bid to remove their banner.

McHugh also takes note of a communication from the Provost’s office to faculty members that stated, “While the university is aware that a number of student organizations are planning a walkout at 12:30 tomorrow, we are not canceling classes and expect that instruction will continue as scheduled.”

At least one professor, Mack Gregg of the English department, ended class at 12:30 and urged students to attend the walkout demonstration, two students told McHugh. The Independent tried to contact Gregg for a response but got no reply. Continue reading

In Defense of Painful Free Speech

by Allan Stam

The horrific attacks of October 7th on Jews in Israel have prompted pro-Palestinian groups, including several at UVA, to rally in support of Hamas. In recent days, we have heard growing calls for support of Palestinians and condemnation of Israel as the Israeli Defense Forces and Iran’s proxies – Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Ansar Allah (the Houthi movement in Yemen) wage the most significant war in and around Israel in years. This is a war precipitated solely by Hamas’ surprise terror attack of unprecedented scale and proportion on unarmed Israeli civilians.

A common theme across the statements of pro-Palestinian groups and many university administrators and faculty is an explicit or implicit assertion of some moral equivalence between the suffering of human shields in Gaza and the victims of barbaric terror attacks in Israel. The linguistic turn that Hamas’ apologists employ most commonly is the ‘yes, but…’ device.

Some responded to these abhorrent statements with calls to restrict free speech, to sanction the terrorists’ enablers formally, and to quell somehow this pruriently hateful speech. I disagree. Most vehemently. Let the antisemites have their say. Why? Because now we know with certainty what they believe and how they genuinely feel about others in our community.

The downside of strict censorship is uncertainty about peoples’ actual beliefs. For example, by making the use of the n-word utterly forbidden, we protect the sensibilities of Black people who would suffer, at a minimum, great offense and possibly some genuine harm. However, the cost of that protection is that it enhances the ability of the faithful or casual racists to hide in our midst. Continue reading

Crime and Punishment in Charlottesville

by James C. Sherlock

UVa and Harvard are the two campuses most often cited by the national and world press as homes to the worst actors after October 7.

It is easy work.

I posted a column on Saturday making a series of recommendations for actions by the University of Virginia to protect its Jewish community and rid itself of those that threaten it.

That was my response to the infamous support of UVa-funded organizations for the slaughter of innocents in Israel by Hamas, a group designated by the United States as a terrorist organization.

Kill Jews “by any means necessary” they wrote.

Read the column. I named them.

Now I have been told by the Executive Director of Hillel at UVa, Rabbi Jake Rubin, that the President’s office and local law enforcement “have been incredibly responsive, helpful, and present during this difficult time.”

Good start, and Virginians thank them for it, but it does not answer the questions about enforcement of state and federal laws.

So, there is more to do. Continue reading