U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared at Georgetown University's law school on Sept. 26 to deliver an address championing free speech, sparking protest from the university's staff and students.
Approximately 100 protesters gathered outside at Georgetown Law to protest Sessions' address, according to The Washington Post. They carried signs, some of which read "Free speech is not hate speech." Some wore duct tape over their mouths.
Some protesters took a knee, which according to The New York Times, is similar to a form of protest used by NFL players that President Donald Trump has criticized.
Sessions' speech addressed the use of free speech on college campuses and condemned "free-speech zones" that have appeared on campuses across the country.
"A national recommitment to free speech on campus and to ensuring First Amendment rights is long overdue," Sessions said during his address. "Protesters are now routinely shutting down speeches and debates across the country in an effort to silence voices that insufficiently conform with their views."
As Sessions concluded his speech, audience members near the back stood up. They then sat down and had tape covering their mouths.
Some students said that on Sept. 25, a day before the address was set to take place, they received messages informing them they would not be allowed to attend the event despite using official channels to register. Some saw it as a way of ensuring a sympathetic audience, going against the point of Sessions' speech.
"Holding an event that creates a safe space for the attorney general -- and such a safe space that you don’t even invite people who commit to not disrupt the event while it’s ongoing -- demonstrates a certain amount of hypocrisy," said Heidi Li Feldman, a professor at the law school.
"To invite somebody who purports to be an authority on free speech who so profoundly misunderstands the theories and law of free speech in our country ... is laughable," added Feldman, who said she was denied permission to attend the speech.
Tanya Weinberg, a spokeswoman for Georgetown's law school, said invitations were issued as they normally are and were not given out in a manner to create a sympathetic audience. She said due to limited capacity, the hosting organization, the Center for the Constitution, determined the guest list.
She said the center decided to invite students who had previously attended events at the center as well as students in classes taught by Professor Randy Barnett, the center's director.
In addition to the protests, a group of Georgetown faculty members released a statement regarding Sessions' visit to the school and other actions taken by the attorney general.
"We acknowledge our colleague's right to invite Attorney General Sessions to speak on campus," the statement read in part. "However, we, the undersigned, condemn the hypocrisy of Attorney General Sessions speaking about free speech."