Law students raise concerns about Federalist Society’s ongoing event with Alliance Defending Freedom – The Cavalier Daily
Members of LGBTQ+ and legal progressive student organizations have raised concerns about a Tuesday an event sponsored by the Federalist Society of Law School. The event will feature Erin Hawley, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom – a Southern Poverty Law Center –classified anti-LGBTQ+ hate group.
The event will feature an overview of 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, a waiting Supreme Court case. ADF is defending a Colarado business refusing to provide services to same-sex couples based on First Amendment rights in the lawsuit.
The Federalist Society is an organization designed to foster free and open debate and does not endorse any particular political position, according to its website. It sponsors several speaker events each year, many of which have drawn criticism in the past. An event organized by the group last February titled “Does Equality for Women Require Abortion” was critical for being misinterpreted as a conversation when equal weight was not given to the pro-choice argument.
The Federalist Society declined to comment for this article.
The Southern Poverty Law Center lists ADF as an anti-LBGTQ+ hate group on its website, citing the organization’s spread of lies surrounding the LGBTQ+ community – including the presence of a “homosexual agenda” that threatens to destroy Christian society. The group supported the criminalization gay sex as well as legislation allowing Christians to deny goods and services to LGBTQ+ people in the public sphere.
The National Lawyers Guild of the U.Va. Right published a statement Saturday condemning the Federalist Society’s decision to host the ADF, urging the group to cancel the event, and calling on the law school to issue a statement condemning the ADF’s views.
“There is a difference between encouraging healthy student debate and demanding that LGBTQ+ students share spaces with a genuine hate group that promotes the silence and erasure of these students,” the statement read.
On the same day as the Federalist Society event, the National Lawyers Guild is also sponsorship an event titled “Building LGBTQ+ Awareness, Community, and Solidarity.” The program will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For many students, like Sabrina Surgil, volunteer president of the Lambda Law Alliance and sophomore law student, this upcoming event poses a danger to the University’s LGBTQ+ community. LLA focuses on LGBTQ+ rights and representation.
“I don’t know how LGBTQ+ students at U.Va. Law are expected to just do their job, go to class, participate, and be able to engage with the program the same way as heterosexual students are when people who try to erase and criminalize our entire existence are given the opportunity to speak out and be normalized on such a scale in school,” Surgil said.
Surgil said she thinks this event may have the effect of turning away future LGBTQ+ students from the University.
“[LGBTQ+ students] we deserve to feel safe at school and we deserve to feel that our classmates respect us, but that’s the opposite of respect – it’s active hostility,” Surgil said.
Spencer Haydary, former LLA president and third-year law student, echoed Surgil, adding that the event threatened the university’s LGBTQ+ community.
“I don’t feel safe here. I really don’t know,” Haydary said. “When people come like this, I don’t feel safe as a queer person, especially with everything that’s going on in this country, and how, nationally, queer people are being targeted.”
National Lawyers Guild member and third-year law student Ariana Smith linked the event to the recent to spill deRoe v. Wade, as the decision could potentially impact same-sex marriage protections.
“It’s very clear that this is a time in our country where gay rights are increasingly under attack,” Smith said.
Chris Schandevel, senior counsel for ADF’s appeals defense team and a 2012 alumnus of law, said that despite the controversy, this event aims to encourage the free exchange of ideas and find common ground. .
“We think our universities are really meant to be a marketplace of ideas, so we’re basically committed to showing up, engaging, having conversations, talking about issues, that’s what we consider to be one most important issues for us as a society,” Schandevel said.
Smith said it was important to raise awareness of events like these and stressed the need for the University to take action.
“There is significant scope for our administration to take a more active role in protecting and advocating for marginalized students,” Smith said. “Especially considering that U.Va. Law prides itself on being a school that becomes more diverse every year and actively recruits LGBTQ+ students under the guise of being a welcoming space for these community members.
The University’s Free Speech Policy states that it cannot prevent someone from speaking at an event based on its content or point of view. In an emailed statement to the Cavalier Daily, University spokesperson Brian Coy stressed the University’s strong support for free speech.
“Like schools, institutes and other organizations, student groups are free to invite speakers of their choice to speak at events,” Coy said. “Members of our community are also free to avoid these events or to respectfully object to ideas shared at these events.”
In the ongoing case that will be discussed at the event, ADF attorneys are representing Lorie Smith, owner of 303 Creative, a Colorado design studio. Smith has said she believes marriage is between a man and a woman and would like to offer marriage website building services for couples, but feels she cannot support same-sex unions. Smith claims Colorado’s public housing law violates his freedom of speech by requiring him to create art that is inconsistent with his personal beliefs, such as wedding websites for LGBTQ+ couples. The case is expected to go to the Supreme Court in December.
For Schandevel, talking about this particular case is an opportunity to discuss community and cultural values.
“Are we going to try to be a society that forces people to either give up their beliefs or conform to their beliefs to be more aligned with those of others?” said Schandevel.
ADF has previously defended members of various religious denominations in religious freedom cases. Some of his most high-profile cases have involved business owners who refused to serve same-sex couples on the grounds of freedom of speech or freedom of religion.