SFLA Demands Virginia Commonwealth University Legally Address the Violence Experienced on Campus, as the School “Failed in its Constitutional Duties to Protect Free Speech” 

Caroline Wharton - 06 Apr 2023

Through SFLA Counsel along with attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), SFLA has sent a demand letter this week to VCU calling out the school’s complete failure to protect both the safety and free speech rights of peaceful pro-life speakers and pro-life and pro-choice students at a March 29th event.  

“Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) allowed a Heckler’s Veto to disrupt a peaceful pro-life presentation conversation planned by students at the school,” said SFLA President Kristan Hawkins, one of the invited guests. “Threats and violence ended the event, which is an injustice the school can begin to correct by inviting me back and properly protecting myself and the students who will gather, as we must ensure that students are safe on campuses. Free speech rights people are afraid to use, don’t really exist, and so we will defend our students as they stand up for mothers and their children, born and preborn.” 

WASHINGTON D.C. (04-06-2023) – Students for Life of America (SFLA) President Kristan Hawkins reported that a demand letter was sent this week to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) from SFLA through corporate counsel and attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to address the breakdown of a pro-life event scheduled on March 29th. Hawkins along with SFLA Ambassador Isabel Brown were to speak on campus as part of the “Lies Pro-Choicers Tell” tour at the invitation of the on campus SFLA group. But violent pro-abortion protestors self-identified through signs and clothing as Antifa, radical Transgender activists, and abortion apologists broke up the event in violence that resulted in two arrests as well as injuries of a student pro-life leader treated by EMTs on the scene.  

“Most American universities say they value free speech, but actions speak louder than words. Virginia Commonwealth University recently had the opportunity to show it supports every student’s First Amendment right and utterly failed,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Rather than ensure a safe and productive exchange of ideas, university officials allowed a vitriolic mob to take over and detained the pro-life speakers and students, instead of the violent disrupters. Public universities violate students’ constitutionally protected freedoms when they attempt to silence views they don’t want to hear. We urge VCU to swiftly rectify the damage that’s been done and prove they value freedom of speech.” 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE on the events: Antifa & Transgender Activists Use Violence & Volume to Shut Down SFLA Event with President Kristan Hawkins  

In the letter sent to the school, the attorneys note: “VCU failed in its constitutional duties to protect free speech in at least three major ways”: 

First, VCU wholly failed to take “reasonable action” to protect the free speech rights of SFL-VCU and SFLA by choosing not to provide any security for the March 29th expressive event.  

Pro-life student examined by EMS

Second, having decided to take no action to protect SFL-VCU’s March 29th event, VCU police compounded VCU’s failure by taking 27 minutes to respond to the calls it received concerning an ongoing, violent disturbance at the event. Not only did this undue delay prolong the period of disruption but also it permitted the fracas to escalate into an uncontrollable melee—during which period personal injuries and property damage were sustained. VCU’s lack of urgency in responding to a serious and dangerous disruption demonstrates the apathy with which VCU and its police regard their constitutional duties to protect free speech from a heckler’s veto.  

Third, even when VCU police did arrive on the scene, they failed to take any action to quell the disruption and protect SFL-VCU’s and SFLA’s rights to speak freely. Rather, they sat “idly on the sidelines—watching as the crowd impose[d], through violence, a tyrannical majoritarian rule.”9 And, then, they removed the speakers and their sponsors, rather than the disruptors—“claim[ing] that the speaker[s’] removal was necessary for [their] own protection.”10 These actions only further compounded VCU’s violations to the rights of free speech.  

To remedy the obvious harms, SFLA through its legal team asks for another, safe, event to be set up, along with recovery of costs incurred, as well as free speech training on campus, and an investigation into “the role that the Young Democratic Socialists of America (“YDSA”) played in prompting and facilitating” the attacks.  

For more details on the events immediately following March 29, including on the arrests of two pro-abortion protestors, click here to readNEW DETAILS: Arrests Made & EMTs Called In Night of Antifa and Transgender Violence at VCU

For interviews, contact Kristi Hamrick at [email protected]    


Students for Life Action (SFLAction), a 501c4, along with its 501c3 sister organization, Students for Life of America (SFLA), make up the nation’s largest pro-life youth organization and a political and policy operation engaging people of all ages. Together they work to end abortion — the human rights issue of our day — and provide political, legal, and community support for women and their children, born and preborn. Headquartered in Fredericksburg, VA, SFLA has more than 1,300 groups on middle, high school, college, university, medical, and law school campuses in all 50 states. SFLA creates strategy, policy, and programming to connect those most targeted for abortion with people ready to help and builds a framework for political engagement on their behalf. SFLA and SFLAction have more conversations with those most targeted by the abortion industry than any other pro-life outreach in the world, reaching more than 2 million people across social media platforms each week and engaging in approximately 100,000 digital conversations per month. Over more than 16 years, President Kristan Hawkins has grown SFLAction/SFLA into an $18 million organization preparing for a Post-Roe America.  

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