Category Archives: Individual liberties

Covid vs. Religious Freedom at UVA

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia has paid more than $1.8 million in legal fees fighting a lawsuit filed by UVA Health employees who were fired, despite religious objections, for refusing to take the Covid vaccine. And that’s just through November. Given the continuing litigation, billing has likely passed the $2 million mark.

Eleven former employees filed a lawsuit a year ago, claiming that the $3 billion-a-year-in-revenues health system arbitrarily declined to grant them religious exemptions from the vaccine mandate.

Hunton Andrews Kurth is the lead law firm for UVA, charging between $600 and $900 per hour for legal services and racking up $1.52 million in charges through November, according to documents The Jefferson Council has acquired through the Freedom of Information Act. Eckert Seamons has charged $240,000, and IslerDare $70,000. Continue reading

The Asymmetrical Application of Free-Speech Principles

by James A. Bacon

Clifford S. Asness, founder of AQR Capital Management, did a masterful job of distilling the free-speech debate on college campuses to its essence. Though he had in mind the disastrous testimony of the three Ivy League presidents last week regarding Palestinians and Jews, his Wall Street Journal op-ed describes the dilemma at the University of Virginia as well.

Alumni donors like me don’t object to free speech. What we can’t abide is the extremely asymmetrical application of free-speech principles. For years these schools, [the University of Pennsylvania] prominently included, have actively suppressed ideas disagreeable to the progressive worldview of their administrations, faculties and hard-core student activists. Now that those groups are talking about wiping Israel off the map, these college presidents are wrapping themselves in the First Amendment….

Unacceptable is the current status quo of free speech for those chanting slogans that amount to “death to the Jews” but not for those committing alleged microaggressions against the politically favored.

That is precisely the problem I have with the UVa administration.

The day after Hamas terrorists slaughtered thousands of defenseless Israeli citizens and abducted hundreds more, the Students for Justice in Palestine at UVA were free to say the following [my bold]: Continue reading

Kalven Principles for UVa?

by James A. Bacon

Five years ago, University of Virginia President Jim Ryan took to the social media platform formerly known as Twitter to comment upon the horrific murder of 11 Jews in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh by a white nationalist.

“This kind of hate and violence goes against everything this country should stand for, and for which the University of Virginia will always stand,” he tweeted. “It falls to all of us to do everything we can, not just to keep our community safe but to prevent hate and bigotry from taking root in the first place.”

Someone warned him at the time to be careful, Ryan recalled in remarks to the UVa Board of Visitors Friday. Once he started commenting on news headlines, it would be difficult to stop. There is always something happening around the world. If university presidents comment on one story, they are expected to comment on the next. And if they don’t, people read meaning into the silence.

Maybe it’s time to rethink the practice of making public pronouncements on events of the day, Ryan suggested. Maybe it’s time to consider adopting the Kalven principles, a set of principles articulated by the University of Chicago’s Kalven Committee that urged colleges and universities to maintain institutional neutrality on social and political issues. Continue reading

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 at 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

Three Ideas for Protecting Civil Dialogue at UVa

by James A. Bacon

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.

Responding to a letter from Jefferson Council President Tom Neale, the administration characterized some of the behavior as “disappointing,” but noted that there were “no arrests or injuries, and no property damage.” The administration found no grounds for follow-up action.

The Jefferson Council vigorously takes issue with the administration’s spin. We believe that protesters should be held to a higher standard than not causing injury or property damage. We have published a report detailing the events surrounding the Shrier event and offer three tangible recommendations for upholding the right of members of the UVa community to hear speakers free from disruption and intimidation. Continue reading

Some Virginia State Colleges and Universities Host Chinese Government Student Control Organizations

by James C. Sherlock

Courtesy U.S. – China Economic and Security Review Commission

Virginia Tech’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association

is the largest international student society at Virginia Tech, with more than 1,000 Chinese students and scholars and their families. It is also one of the largest Chinese student and scholars organizations in the United States. [Go to link and click “translate” in URL window.]

Good to know.

More than 350,000 students from mainland China out of about 1 million total international students are enrolled in America’s colleges and universities in 2023.

The financial incentives for the schools are huge.

All of those students pay full-sticker out-of-state tuition as well as room, board and student fees – $58,750 annually for undergraduates.  So Tech realizes about $60 million for its full-time Chinese Hokies.  That does not include summer students, another big program.

In associated programs, Chinese universities provide Mandarin language instructors to American faculties and accept U.S. students.

But the institutions who accept Chinese Student and Scholars Associations (CSSAs) know they monitor and control Chinese students and spread the official dogma of the Chinese state to their campuses.

The Chinese don’t even try to make it a secret.

CSSAs have closed at UVa, VCU, James Madison and George Mason without apparent effect on their Chinese student inputs.

Yet Virginia Tech, William and Mary, and ODU continue to host them.

It makes no sense. 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

Free Speech and Advocacy of Genocide

by James A. Bacon

Chanting “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea,” hundreds of pro-Palestinian students held a protest on the Lawn at the University of Virginia yesterday. As reported by The Washington Free-Beacon, they demanded the Biden administration defund aid to Israel. The event was part of a national “walkout” organized by Students for Justice in Palestine, and the second demonstration in Charlottesville since Hamas unleashed a wave of terrorist attacks on Israel earlier this month.

“We, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), are sickened by the on-going, escalating genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Zionist forces,” said the organizing group in a formal statement signed by two dozen other leftist student groups in the aftermath of the Hamas assault. “We stand in solidarity with Palestinians in the fight for liberation and in their struggle against settler colonialism.” 

While the protesters were not explicit about their ultimate aim, the slogan “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea” can mean only one thing: the eradication of the Israeli state and the dispossession — or worse — of the Jews within it. Hamas’ slaughter of innocents in its wave of terrorist attacks earlier this month foreshadows the likely fate of the Jewish population should Hamas carry the day.

Even Adolph Hitler did not call for the extermination of the Jews in his antisemitic tract, Mein Kampf. Even the senior Nazis attending the Wannsee Conference to organize the “final solution” for the Jews spoke in euphemisms and knew that their program was too gruesome to reveal to the German people. Hamas is far more open about its aims. The genocidal impulse is all too clear. Continue reading

“Hate” Speech Does Not Make Students “Unsafe”

Scene from “Clockwork Orange”

by James A. Bacon

There is a widespread notion among militant leftists at the University of Virginia, as there is in universities across the Commonwealth, that exposure to objectionable ideas causes “harm” to those who hear them and, thus, should be suppressed. This logic is a totalitarian wolf in sheep’s clothing. While I do not countenance the banning of speech — even the speech of those who would happily ban mine — I do believe this leftist trope must be combatted forcefully in the marketplace of ideas.

We observed this thinking in the run-up to the speech by Abigail Shrier, author of Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, which highlights the role of social contagion in the spread of transgender identity among teenage girls and the potentially irreversible damage of hormone treatments and sex-change surgery.

Shrier is Public Enemy No. 1 to transgender activists, and their social media accounts lit up once word got out that The Jefferson Council and its partners were holding a Q&A event with Shrier on the Grounds. I won’t bore you with the serial misrepresentations of Shrier as a transphobe and a hater. Rather, my intent here is to explore the logic that speakers with views like hers are unwelcome at UVa. 

“Unfortunately, knowing that the university is OK w allowing hateful ppl to come to this school (pence, pompeo, other hateful republicans) it is clear that ‘free speech’ and ‘bipartisanship’ is valued over the safety of their students,” messaged one writer in a QSU (Queer Student Union) account. [My bold face.] Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Ungovernable Virginia

It’s not just the big stuff we need to worry about — broken borders, riots, crime waves, school shootings — we need to pay attention to the little stuff, too: small things that betray the fraying of the social fabric. Some instances in today’s headlines:

From WAVY-TV: “Video shows man choking county attorney at Gloucester Co. meeting.” Cell phone video taken at a public meeting to discuss a bond referendum shows Gloucester County resident Lawrence Cohen with one hand holding a microphone and the other choking Gloucester County Attorney Edwin N. “Ted” Wilmot. I know nothing about the issues or personalities involved, but that’s just not acceptable. Choking people in public hearings is not the kind of thing that used to happen.

Meanwhile, Arlington County Public Schools is rolling out a new “electronic campus management platform” at several schools, reports ARL Now. The platform will allow schools to regulate the number of students in the halls and going in and out of buildings. Sounds like Orwellian overkill for a school disciplinary problem. What’s next? Artificial Intelligence to decide who gets a hall pass and who doesn’t? Continue reading

Alumni Groups File Amicus Brief in Virginia Tech Free Speech Case

by James A. Bacon

The Alumni Free Speech Alliance (AFSA) and alumni groups from nine colleges and universities, including The Jefferson Council, submitted an  amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday urging the court to hear a case brought by Speech First over the issue of bias reporting practices and procedures at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

“The use of bias reporting systems has become pervasive across American college and university campuses and these systems create a climate of fear and intimidation that causes many students to self-censor and discourages constitutionally protected speech,” said AFSA President Charles Davis. “These bias reporting systems have no place at a university whose defining purpose as a place of learning and human fulfillment can only be achieved through a steadfast commitment to free speech.”

From the brief:

Rather than adopting explicitly punitive speech codes or conditioning participation in university life on acceptance of prevailing views, colleges such as Respondent created “bias response” systems. Continue reading

Thunder in the Pulpits

by Michael Giere

“But this was not always so. In fact, for much of our history, it has been just the opposite. Godly men and women who were fearless, bold, strong, and savvy have been central to the American experience.”

There has never been anything in history like the US Constitution, signed on September 17, 1787. It is the crown jewel of human advancement and bids freedom not for some but for all. It stands alone, enshrining and paying homage to the core reality of man’s existence – that the dignity and rights of every person and their personal freedom don’t come from the word or works of an impermanent ruler, a mob, or government but from the permanent promise of the Creator.

The Constitution began with a convention and 55 delegates from the newly-free Colonies called to modify the Articles of Confederation. It became a convention that would reshape history. Influential members such as James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington, among others, were convicted that the Confederation needed a stronger national government, and the Convention settled on Mr. Madison’s Virginia Plan as a starting document to replace the Articles of Confederation. Continue reading

Don’t Get Too Fired Up About UVa’s FIRE Ranking

by Allan Stam

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) recently gave the University of Virginia a 6th-place ranking in a national survey assessing the state of free speech on college campuses. Provost Ian Baucom cited the recognition during Wednesday’s Board of Visitors meeting, noting that it was the highest ranking the university had ever achieved.

UVa’s high score suggests to some the existence of a robust culture of open dialogue and intellectual freedom at UVa. However, a closer examination of the underlying data reveals a more nuanced and troubling picture.

UVa’s overall score was a mere 68 out of 100, a grade that would be considered failing in many academic and household settings. This discrepancy between the overall ranking and the actual score raises questions about the survey’s methodology. It casts doubt on the true state of free speech at UVA and perhaps other highly ranked institutions.

UVa earned the high score primarily on the basis of its stated policies. President Jim Ryan, Provost Ian Baucom and the Board of Visitors have repeatedly endorsed free speech and viewpoint diversity in the past year. But official policies tell us little about actual practices or the cultural milieu in which students, faculty and staff interact.

When one digs a little deeper into the specific categories within the survey, the concerns become even more pronounced. UVa ranks alarmingly low in several key areas: 222nd in “Comfort Expressing Ideas,” 178th in “Disruptive Conduct,” and 188th in “Openness.” These rankings are not mere numbers; they represent a tangible reality where students feel uncomfortable expressing their ideas, where disruptive conduct stifles dialogue, and where a lack of openness hampers intellectual growth. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Governors

by Kerry Dougherty

Why is anyone surprised that the governor of New Mexico has decided that a spike in crime constitutes a public health emergency that warrants suspension of 2nd Amendment rights of the people to carry a firearm?

When Americans merrily surrendered their civil rights three years ago during a health emergency, could they not foresee a perpetual state of emergencies, with tyrannical despots infringing on constitutional rights using the flimsiest of excuses?

I hate to say “I told you so,” but some of us tried to sound the alarm in the winter of 2020, but too many Americans were hiding under their beds to listen to us.

Now this:

On Friday, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, declared a public health emergency in Albuquerque and nearby Bernalillo County citing high crime rates and issued a 30-day ban on the carrying of firearms. She said she was likely to extend the order.

“I have emergency powers,” Grisham crowed. “Gun violence is an epidemic. Therefore, it’s an emergency!”

Never mind that of the five shooting incidents Grisham cited when suspending the Second Amendment, only two were in the Albuquerque area and chances are neither would have been thwarted by her unconstitutional ban. Continue reading

The Sorry State of the ACLU of Virginia

by Hans Bader

The communist activist Angela Davis advocated abolishing prisons in the U.S., while supporting the incarceration of political prisoners in totalitarian communist regimes overseas. The ACLU of Virginia has touted Angela Davis’s stances in the past, such as in an April 4, 2022 tweet  quoting Davis.

Now, the ACLU of Virginia has returned to promoting these extreme positions, in addition to new ones. In an August 7 post, the ACLU approvingly featured an image with the message “Abolish Prisons,” “Abolish White Supremacy,” and “No One Is Illegal On Stolen Land,” accompanied by a tweet agreeing with this sign, and saying “That’s right, NO ONE.”

We do not all live on stolen land, contrary to the claim made by some left-wingers. A great deal of land was voluntarily sold to settlers by Native Americans. Law professor Stuart Banner’s book How the Indians Lost Their Land explains this. Some land changed hands through “consensual transactions,” and other land through “violent conquest.”

Banner is a mainstream, well-respected academic at UCLA Law School who may have been surprised by what he discovered about the large scope of voluntary transfers of land from Native Americans to whites. But the large number of land sales by Native Americans makes sense because North America was a much emptier place after European diseases wiped out most of the Native American population, leaving many Native Americans with plenty of land even if they ceded some of it to white settlers.

The ACLU’s apparent call to “abolish prisons” is also misguided, because peer-reviewed academic studies show prisons prevent many violent crimes and property crimes. One such study is “The Incapacitation Effect of Incarceration: Evidence from Several Italian Collective Pardons,” which found that reducing incarceration increased the crime rate. This article was published in the American Economic Review, which is a peer-reviewed journal. Continue reading