Students protest after Federalist Society hosts ADF’s Jonathan Scruggs 


Tuesday, Feb. 13, undergraduate and law students at the College of William and Mary protested the decision of the law school’s Federalist Society to host lawyer Jonathan Scruggs. Scruggs is a part of the Alliance Defending Freedom and frequently works on cases protecting the freedom of religion doctrine and expression of faith. Student protesters criticized the anti-LGBTQ+ work Scruggs and the ADF have historically pursued on issues of same-sex relationships as well as bodily autonomy. ADF has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  

Scruggs serves as senior counsel and vice president of Litigation Strategy and Center for Conscience Initiatives, which is associated with the ADF. The Federalist Society invited him to speak about the 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis Supreme Court case that was tried in December 2022. 

In response, students came to the event with signs and flyers that described the ADF’s anti-LGBTQ+ litigation efforts throughout history. Kyle Hyde J.D. ’24 was among many who used the protest to provide an alternative perspective to the points Scruggs was presenting in his discussion. 

“We just want to have a presence on the campus that promotes inclusivity,” Hyde said. “But in order to promote inclusivity, you can’t have organizations that promote hate speech on your campus. So this is more of a statement that homophobia, transphobia — none of that is welcome here. So we want to provide information about who the Alliance Defending Freedom is and promote safe and consensual sex.”

“But in order to promote inclusivity, you can’t have organizations that promote hate speech on your campus. So this is more of a statement that homophobia, transphobia — none of that is welcome here. So we want to provide information about who the Alliance Defending Freedom is and promote safe and consensual sex.”

Scruggs spoke on how the 303 case began in 2016 when Lorie Smith wanted to expand her graphic design business, 303 Creative LLC, to create wedding websites. Smith worried the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act — a public accommodations law requiring equal access to goods and services regardless of traits enumerated in the legislation — would result in her needing to create websites for same-sex marriages. Smith sought an injunction to determine whether the state could compel her to create websites for same-sex couples. Scruggs and the ADF provided legal support to Smith in this case.  

“We litigated the case on free speech and free speech exercise grounds,” Scruggs said. “Eventually, it worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court where the Supreme Court only took the free speech issue. And the question pertaining was can a public accommodation law be applied to an artist to hold down or silence them to speak a message they disagree with.”

Hyde saw hosting Scruggs as harmful to LGBTQ+ students.

“Having this speaker here, they’re trying to frame it in a way that’s like, ‘Oh, well, he successfully argued two Supreme Court cases. So we want to show what the law is.’ For me, I see this organization as directly responsible for taking away rights of LGBTQ students or LGBTQ people, period. And like a lot of controversy surrounding the 303 Creative case was that there wasn’t really an actual injury that occurred,” Hyde said. 

He expanded on the idea that Smith’s business never received injury as a result of the anti-discrimination law.

“So they’ve been vying for an opportunity to take one of these cases to the Supreme Court. And this guy here today is too. Part of the reason he’s here is to discuss the future of LGBTQ rights. And from their perspective, they’ve been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. You can infer what their thoughts are on the future of LGBTQ rights,” Hyde said. 

Scruggs elaborated more about his arguments at the Supreme Court.

“The primary case we relied on is this decision called ‘Hurley,’” Scruggs said. “It came out unanimously in 1994. It involved a public accommodations law in Massachusetts that was applied to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade organizers.” 

Scruggs described how, similar to the situation in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, parade organizers rejected the participation of the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual group of Boston. However, the group sued to be included under the state’s law requiring accommodation regardless of background. 

“The courts ruled in favor of the LGBTQ group in the lower courts, but the Supreme Court ruled against the group citing violations of the parade organizers’ First Amendment right to free speech,” Scruggs said.

“The courts ruled in favor of the LGBTQ group in the lower courts, but the Supreme Court ruled against the group citing violations of the parade organizers’ First Amendment right to free speech.”

He expanded on the connection between Hurley and the 303 Creative case. 

“Just like in Hurley, our client had what is called a message-based objection that she serves people in the LGBT community,” Scruggs said. “And Hurley acknowledged that the break group didn’t exclude ‘homosexuals as such,’ that was the language from the Supreme Court ruling. But they didn’t want to accept a message, they were going to frame it, [that] they disagreed with. That lined up with our client’s views and theories about why she didn’t want their message.”

Connor Cheadle J.D. ’25, president of the Law School’s chapter of the Federalist Society, described the organization’s role on campus. 

“The Federalist Society puts on debate, discussion and legal events that draw controversial decisions and we try to figure out the law. So we put together this event to discuss 303, both sides of the case, and to help educate students here on campus, regarding what the law is,” Cheadle said. 

On hearing the invitation of Scruggs, Hyde was not surprised. 

“I’ve kind of been waiting for this to happen,” Hyde said. “Last year we saw an insurgence of anti-LGBTQ+ bills passed but also proposed at state legislatures across the country. And so I think we’ve been waiting for something like this to happen at our school. And something like this happened the year before I came here and there was an outcry from students to cancel the event. But of course, that didn’t happen.” 

Skye McCollum J.D. ’24 also criticized the society’s invitation of Scruggs. 

“Jonathan Scruggs is from the ADF, an organization we all know too well, unfortunately, which is recognized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” McCollum said. “And just knowing and seeing that the Federalist Society invited this individual, it was one of those disappointed but not surprised moments. I mean, the Federalist Society definitely aligns with the ADF on a lot of things. And it’s one of these continuing things where the school doesn’t always feel the safest for their students. When an organization welcomes somebody who has fought his entire career to restrict the rights of queer people and people’s bodily autonomy.”

Cheadle acknowledged the controversy surrounding this event. 

“303 is a contentious decision. One that is not covered very well in courses and covered by faculty very well. We decided to host this event because it’s a hot-button issue and it’s important that students know that law and understand it, especially law students who are going to be practicing attorneys one day. It would be a disservice to let law students go into the world and become attorneys, not understanding where the current law is,” Cheadle said.

“It would be a disservice to let law students go into the world and become attorneys, not understanding where the current law is.”

He also responded to backlash toward the Federalist Society for hosting this event.

“Something that I learned in undergrad is that there’s a difference between anticipating when you’re listening to someone and that I should actually listen to what someone says,” Cheadle said. “And I would hope that these people and the protestors and the people who feel nervous about this event can find the professionalism and courage within themselves to listen to ideas that they think that they hate, and to not just anticipate what they believe.”

For Cheadle and the Federalist Society, hosting a talk on the 303 case is about having a comprehensive law school education. 

“People want to hear what they want to hear, I can’t change that. Only people in their hearts can change that,” Cheadle said. “And, this world is full of bad things and difficult things, you can’t walk the streets without assuming some risks. That’s what we learn day one of law school is that when you get in your car, you assume the risk of driving your car kind of thing, you go outside you assume the risk of reality. We can’t ignore important cases in the Supreme Court, whether you agree with or not, the law is the law.”

Sarah Bradley J.D. ’24, president of OUTLaw, reflected on Scruggs’ invitation. OUTLaw is an organization that works to bring attention and awareness to the legal issues affecting gender and sexual minorities.

“It’s not specifically about what they’re saying,” Bradley said. “It’s not specifically about the topic, just being discussed, but it’s more about just having the presence of that individual on school grounds who doesn’t make this school a safe place. And of course, FedSoc has the First Amendment right to bring the speaker here. But in our opinion, it really, honestly discourages the open discussion that they’re hoping to create and that we hope to encourage in a legal education, that it’s just inappropriate to bring that individual to a school setting, regardless of everything else.”

Bradley described that while OUTLaw did not help plan the demonstrations, it sought to create a safe space that supported students in their efforts. 

“Based on discussion with many members of the LGBTQ community, we decided as OUTLaw that we represent an affinity group and not specifically a political group. So, we did not officially plan the protests and demonstrations that occurred,” Bradley said. “We said the entire time that we fully support everybody protesting, but that because we’re an affinity group, we don’t think it’s specifically appropriate to encourage and plan and make members potentially feel coerced to participate in a demonstration like that. And so, we planned an alternative event where everybody could just kind of create this safe space where everybody’s comfortable and making a bunch of bracelets and everything.”

This alternative event Bradley was referring to, titled “PALentine’s Day” took place at the same time as the Federalist Society event so that students could join their peers for lunch and arts and crafts. 

OUTLaw released a statement on Instagram ahead of Scruggs event, citing the group’s disappointment with the guest and his background. 

“But, our main response that got a lot of traction, we had a lot of support from the student body with a public statement that was released that you can find on our Instagram. And that was signed by a significant chunk of student organizations. And so, we found that there was really a lot of support for that type of reaction and statement of objection, and that most people just honestly didn’t want to engage with this speaker at all,” Bradley said.

In OUTLaw’s written statement, the organization condemned the Federalist’s Society’s invitation and subsequent event for Scruggs. 

“ADF has, among other reprehensible actions, supported the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ+ adults, worked to deny rights and dignity to transgender children and adults, has been involved in a number of anti-choice cases, including drafting the model legislation for the Dobbs v. Jackson case, and claimed that a ‘homosexual agenda’ will destroy Christianity and society,” the organization’s written statement read.

The post also cited support from other student organizations on the Law School campus, some of which include the American Constitution Society, Asian Pacific American Law Student Association, Black Law Students Association, Disability Alliance and William and Mary Journal of Race, Gender and Social Justice. 

“As a queer student at the school, I thought it was really important that we were really gay in people’s faces, just because it shouldn’t be that the queer students have to walk around feeling uncomfortable and unsafe at their school. It should be the bigots that have to walk around feeling uncomfortable, because that’s not what we want William and Mary to represent. Represent us,”  McCollum said.


  1. The author neglected to mention that LGBTQ people can and have used 303 Creative and Hurley holdings to avoid being compelled to create messages with which they don’t agree. The “you can’t see the forest for the trees” analogy came to mind when I initially read the OwL letter and now this short-sighted article.
    The premise for the event, as well as the 303 Creative holding, is the importance of protecting your liberty from compelled speech as it applies to unique and creative products . A private citizen and/or business must be allowed to discriminate against disagreeable messages/ideas and should never be forced to promote them by the government or its agents.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here