Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a controversial appearance at Georgetown Law School Tuesday to deliver remarks on free speech on college campuses. Besides Sessions’ atrocious record on civil rights, the speech prompted protests from students and faculty after many students were ironically uninvited from the event. After arguing in his speech that there were too many restrictions on speech on college campuses, Sessions proceeded to defend President Trump’s condemnation of NFL players protesting racism by kneeling for the national anthem.
When asked if it concerns him that Trump criticized their protests, Sessions responded, “Well the president has free speech rights too. He sends soldiers out every day to defend this country under the flag of the United States, under the national anthem, and the unity that those symbols call on us to adhere to.”
In fact, Sessions proceeded to condemn the players himself for “denigrating” the nation’s symbols:
So I agree it is a big mistake to protest in that fashion, because it weakens a commitment we have to this nation that has provided us this freedom. I would note, of course, that the players aren’t subject to any prosecution, but if they take a provocative act, they can expect to be condemned, and the President has the right to condemn them, and I would condemn their actions, not them as a human being. There are many ways, these players, with all the assets that they have, can express their political views other than — in effect, denigrating the symbols of our nation, the nation that has provided our freedom to speak and act.
In response to a follow-up question, Sessions seemed to suggest that he would actually be okay with NFL owners controlling the speech of players:
People have a right to register their opinions, to protest, to criticize in any number of ways. I guess it’s up to the owners and the people who create these games and pay for the ball fields to decide what you can do on the ball field. But the freedom of every individual player is paramount under the Constitution. It’s protected, and we have to protect it. I think that’s — it’s not a contradiction there.
Just moments earlier, in his speech, Sessions said, “In this great land, the government does not tell you what to think or what to say” and proceeded to criticize universities’ “free speech zones.” He also announced that the Department of Justice had issued a statement of interest in a campus free speech case, promising that they will “defend free speech.”
As his final thought, he urged the audience to also defend the freedom of speech “steadfastly against anyone that would dominate somebody in their thought and speech.”
In other words, Sessions supports the freedom of speech except when a football player wants to protest on the field.