KS Supreme Court Justice Caleb Stegall resigns KU teaching position over university’s free speech failures

(The Sentinel) – Just over a month after an associate dean at the University of Kansas School of Law labeled a speech that had yet to be given “hate speech,” Justice Caleb Stegall resigned…

(The Sentinel) – Just over a month after an associate dean at the University of Kansas School of Law labeled a speech that had yet to be given “hate speech,” Justice Caleb Stegall resigned from his teaching position at KU Law over the controversy.

On Oct. 19, the KU student chapter of the Federalist Society (FedSoc) invited Jordan Lorence, the senior counsel and director of strategic engagement at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), to speak to KU Law students about the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Leah Terranova fired off an email to the entire staff and student body of the law school, decrying the talk as “hate speech” 90 minutes before the start of Lorence’s talk.

On November 25, Kansas Supreme Court Justice Caleb Stegall, who has been teaching appellate advocacy at KU Law as a member of the adjunct faculty, submitted a scathing, six-page resignation letter to Dean Stephen Mazza, head of the law school.

Stegall wrote that he had sensed “a dampening of the spirit of open inquiry I have so loved and benefited from at KU Law. A spirit that — going all the way back to my days as a law student — always existed within Green Hall. But events this fall have brought an unwelcome clarity to what before was only a vague and foreboding feeling. So I write to let you know that, as a result, I will not be renewing my teaching relationship with KU Law next fall.”

The Sentinel reached out to several members of the KU Law faculty, including Mazza, the communications department of the school of law, as well as members of the school’s Federalist Society chapter for comment, but as of publication, had received a response only from Mazza.

Mazza confirmed the authenticity of both the letter and Stegall’s resignation.

“I received Justice Stegall’s note and replied …” Mazza said. “In my response, I told him that I appreciate that he took the time to share his thoughts. I thanked him for his service to our school as an adjunct professor, and I assured him that his perspective is valued here.

“The University takes pride in its role as a marketplace of ideas, and we strive to provide opportunities for various perspectives to be debated and discussed within our community.”

Marketplace of ideas or closed and fearful environment?

However, in his resignation letter, Stegall said he was concerned about a “closed and fearful environment, brimming with hidden hostilities and carefully nursed grievances.”

Directly referencing the controversy over Lorence, Stegall said he was “disappointed to hear from KU Law students who recently came to me to express concern over administration actions surrounding a lunch-hour event sponsored by the student chapter of the Federalist Society.”

According to Stegall’s letter, after the announcement of the Lorence event, there was a “significant uproar” among students and faculty.

Stegall wrote that when members of the KU FedSoc expressed concern about what might happen at the event and asked the administration to provide security, the students were instead told they should cancel.

“In response, the administration asked to meet with the entire student board of the chapter.

“At that meeting, Associate Dean Leah Terranova and Professor Pam Keller pressured the students to cancel the event,” Stegall wrote. “The administration representatives warned the student leaders that they needed to consider and understand the impact the event could have on them. The administration mentioned that at least five law professors had written to object. The students were told that even though it was their right to host the speaker, they needed to be warned about the impact of their choices. The student leaders were told several times to consider what this would do to their reputation.”

While Stegall, in his letter, was at pains to state he did not believe there was “…intent to threaten or coerce the board members of the student chapter, I can even see that this effort was likely an ill-conceived attempt to protect those students.”

Whether the administration was actually threatening the students or not in that meeting, Terranova, head of the school’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee, quickly accused the ADF of taking “legal positions designed to criminalize homosexuality, demonize trans people, and degrade the civil rights of members of the LGBTQ+ community. As such, the interests and activities of ADF are antithetical to the inclusion and belonging we strive to achieve on our campus.”

Stegall took issue with those statements in his letter.

“Following this meeting, but before the lunch event occurred, I and the entire KU Law community received an email from the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee.” Stegall wrote. “The email described the speaker — by his association with ADF — as a practitioner of ‘hate speech.’ The email went on to acknowledge, grudgingly, that as a public university, KU Law was bound by “the tenets of the First Amendment” and would permit the event to move forward. “The email, by implication, accused the student leaders of the KU Law Federalist Society of facilitating hate speech. Worse, the email made it very clear that the principles of free and open dialogue are only acquiesced to as a legal obligation at KU Law-they are not celebrated, cherished, or valued.”

Stegall also noted that, while the DEIB committee was savaging a campus conservative group, it made no such complaint against a similar event by the Kansas Bar Association a few days later.

“I wonder if the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee is aware that the Kansas Bar Association, only a few days after the KU Law Federalist Society lunch, sponsored and hosted an ADF lawyer at a Continuing Legal Education event for all Kansas lawyers (approved by the Kansas Supreme Court as all CLE’s are)?” Stegall wrote. “The event was organized by the KBA Religion Law Section, chaired by Bob Howard, a deeply respected lawyer in the Kansas legal community. And of note, KU Law’s J.B. Smith Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law Richard Levy was also part of the program.”

Stegall then asked if KU law was prepared to accuse the KBA, prominent Kansas attorneys, and the Kansas Supreme Court of hate speech.

“Somehow, I doubt it. And this double standard speaks volumes about what is really going on.”

Stegall noted his concern over the incident had nothing to do with the speaker, for whom he works, or the ADF in general, and that it would be “absurd” to accuse the participants of espousing identical views as those held by ADF.

“Even so, the KBA did invite an ADF lawyer to present a CLE to Kansas lawyers, and Professor Levy did agree to sit on a panel with that lawyer to discuss religious liberty issues,” Stegall wrote. “Why? Part of the answer is probably that neither the KBA nor Richard Levy are especially afraid of or vulnerable to bullying by the KU Law DEI movement.”

Stegall went on to note there is fair criticism against the KU Law FedSoc chapter, which apparently did not follow the proper procedures before scheduling the event, but added “Certainly nothing that transpired suggests that KU Law would have welcomed a discussion or debate with this speaker if the chapter had only followed proper procedure.”

Stegall said that it is clear from this incident that law students at KU are not being well-served as they enter the profession.

“I cannot sit by and allow these events to pass without comment,” he wrote. “There are many in our legal communities who will shake their heads disapprovingly when things like this happen, but who may not be in positions of sufficient authority or security to speak up … and I recognize I am in a position to do so in circumstances when others cannot.

“In my view, KU Law owes its students (all of them, not just those in the Federalist Society chapter) and the future of the rule of law in Kansas better. And it is possible to course correct. But until that time, I can’t continue to provide tacit support to the current direction through my teaching affiliation with KU Law.”