Law school event featuring religious liberties lawyer Kevin Snider sparks outrage, fundraiser

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The Public Discourse Initiative at the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William & Mary hosted City Councilman Caleb Rogers ’20 for a discussion on racial reconciliation in Williamsburg via Zoom. COURTESY PHOTO / WM.EDU

Wednesday Feb. 17, the Christian Legal Society of the College of William and Mary’s Marshall-Wythe School of Law hosted religious liberties lawyer Kevin Snider, stirring controversy among the law students due to Snider’s work at the Pacific Justice Institute, a legal defense organization that is known to support anti-LGBTQ+ notions.  

 “The speaker event is so controversial because of the organization the speaker works for, which has taken strong anti-LGBTQ stances for decades, including lobbying against same-sex marriage and hate crime protections,” Equality Alliance President Emily Milakovic J.D. ’22 said in an email. “Whatever the personal beliefs of the speaker himself or the CLS board, both are willing to be associated with this organization, showing that the organization’s beliefs aren’t deal breakers for them.”  

“The speaker event is so controversial because of the organization the speaker works for, which has taken strong anti-LGBTQ stances for decades, including lobbying against same-sex marriage and hate crime protections,” Equality Alliance President Emily Milakovic J.D. ’22 said in an email. “Whatever the personal beliefs of the speaker himself or the CLS board, both are willing to be associated with this organization, showing that the organization’s beliefs aren’t deal breakers for them.”

 In response to similar concerns, the College sent an email regarding the speaker and the event. The message chastised students as they referred to actions opposing the speaker as bullying conduct. 

 “After hearing reports about bullying conduct among some of our students related to the recent invitation of a speaker, I write to express in the strongest possible terms that such conduct must have no place at our Law School,” the email said. “In alignment with the university’s policy on freedom of expression, W&M Law School is committed to an environment in which members of the community and invited guests are encouraged to speak freely and express themselves.” 

During the Zoom event, about 30 of the 95 students attending displayed backgrounds with pride flags or symbols supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. After Snider’s initial introduction to his work as a religious liberties lawyer, many students asked questions to clarify the position of his organization and personal beliefs. Snider, during his speech, spoke about how he believed Christians are a discriminated group.  

“I have seen some violence against believers in forms of difficulty in speaking their mind as a high school student and maintaining jobs in civil service, but it can escalate…to go along to get along is not American and goes against the Christian faith,” Snider said.  

Snider also explained that there is “spiritual division” among people causing many rifts in the political scene. Due to this conflict, he believed each side of the aisle will not come to terms, using the words of Jesus Christ as his reasoning.  

“He comes to bring a sword to divide father and son and mother and daughter,” Snider said. “We see that division in our own lives, and it was prophetic what Jesus said is percolating into our society.” 

Snider continued to emphasize that being a Christian is no longer popular, making his work as a religious liberties lawyer difficult. Despite this, he remains an advocate for those who feel they are being disadvantaged because they are Christian. Snider listed a number of examples in which this discrimination occurs, including property use for churches, creating Christian groups in high schools and maintaining jobs in civil justice.  

“I tended to skew to the left politically because that’s what they teach in school,” Snider said. “Then I saw what the real world was like and the importance of our Bill of Rights…from my perspective as a Christian, I was a pacifist when I was younger. My views evolved where I believe there is such a thing as ‘moral violence… The trajectory of the LGBTQ community is going up but being a Christian is going down.”

 During the event, audience members asked questions in a formal, respectful manner, adhering to the language of the College’s email, which stated that in order to become a successful lawyer, one’s speech must be conducted with civility. However, many students still feel that the College did not uphold their prior commitment to inclusion and diversity by welcoming a speaker with ties to an anti-LGBTQ+ organization.  

 “Many members of our student body are frustrated both by this event and by the lack of a response from the Law School administration at this point,” Milakov said. “Following the Black Lives Matter advocacy last year, William and Mary voiced its commitment to diversity this year, but it rings somewhat hollow when our administration has not responded to the concerns of this minority student group.”  

 According to Milakovic, seven other student organizations and more than 150 students signed Equality Alliance’s official statement regarding the events.  

Maria Safronova J.D. ’23 also agreed that the College is falling short on their prior claims to supporting diversity and minority representation.  

 “First of all, the school created a reputation of being inclusive and caring about diversity,” Safonova said in an email. “This was very important for me when I was considering my application, and I know it is important to many other applicants from minority groups as well. When a representative of a recognized hate group is invited to campus, and the administration doesn’t even issue a letter supporting LGBTQIA+ students, I feel betrayed and unsafe.” 

 Safronova continued that not only would these decisions deter possible future applicants, but it also made her question if she was welcome at the school.  

 “It is not an issue of different views, it is an issue of human rights,” Safronova said. “I’ve personally experienced hatred from people not tolerating my existence before, I regularly hear about hate crimes committed, and I don’t want to debate my right to life. That being said, I do not condone any bullying or personal attacks, but expressing concerns and asking people why did they invite a person spreading such hurtful ideas is not bullying.”

 “It is not an issue of different views, it is an issue of human rights,” Safronova said. “I’ve personally experienced hatred from people not tolerating my existence before, I regularly hear about hate crimes committed, and I don’t want to debate my right to life. That being said, I do not condone any bullying or personal attacks, but expressing concerns and asking people why did they invite a person spreading such hurtful ideas is not bullying.” 

The Christian Legal Society of College Law School did not respond to an email requesting a statement in regard to the event.