(New York, N.Y.)– In response to news coverage that student protesters at Yale Law School disrupted an event this week with Kristen Waggoner and Monica Miller, PEN America released the following statement.

Cases like these implicate speech rights on the part of invited guests as well as the rights of protesting students. Both are entitled an opportunity to get their ideas across. Even when it offends, counter-speech is a cardinal companion to free speech; allowing for minor disruption, it can be a useful outlet for dissent. Even heckling during a speech can be acceptable if the interruptions are momentary and the speaker is able to continue. 

However, reports of some of the protesters’ actions indicate that there may have been an intent to disrupt the event, through heckling, confrontation, and noise outside in the hall. If it is accurate that demonstrators made so much noise that it was difficult for the planned conversation to take place, then that constitutes troubling interference with the rights of both the invited speakers as well as those who wished to listen. 

In these situations, campus administrators and conveners need to remain calm and make space for opposing viewpoints. Even when it causes some delay, discomfort, or confrontation during a planned event, the campus community will be best served by adhering to principles that support free expression for all. 

PEN America’s advice on how to respond to heckling:

https://campusfreespeechguide.pen.org/resource/how-to-respond-to-heckling-during-a-speech/

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: Suzanne Trimel, communications and media consultant, STrimel@PEN.org