On Oct. 25, the Federalist Society at UNC Law hosted Jeffery Ventrella as a lunchtime speaker. The Federalist Society is a national organization aiming to upend what they see as law students’ indoctrination in “orthodox liberal ideology.”
The UNC Federalist Society made a deliberate and ultimately self-defeating choice to invite a speaker who was not only purposefully provocative, but also failed to deliver any substantive message capable of surviving academic scrutiny.
Certainly, Ventrella was not invited for his credentials. His bachelor’s degree in music education from ‘the other UNC’ – the University of Northern Colorado – does not seem to directly inform his vitriolic tirade against what he called “nutritional orientation." Yes, he spent several minutes preaching on the immorality of cannibalism, seeming to draw a comparison between queer people and cannibals. Although Ventrella was careful to highlight his doctorate degree — his alma mater, Whitefield Theological Seminary and College, is — in its own words — not accredited.
Ventrella spent his 50-minute lecture espousing the value of morality in understanding legal theory, and particularly pushed for teaching greater historical and sociological contexts next to the letter of the law. Ventrella, who does not have a degree in history, admitted he is reluctant to engage actual historians because he fears the introduction of what he deems “critical theory” and “not real history.” Please note that queer and feminist histories, for example, are well-documented even in village and court roles from medieval England. Ventrella posits that studying those texts will adulterate the moral Christian philosophy needed in American legal education. According to Ventrella, law students should rely on "natural moral law" but judges should not. Law schools should reserve academic chair positions for conservative thinkers but should be wary of any sort of affirmative action. All his points were either hypocritical, contradictory or otherwise vacuous.
The event brought more student protestors than actual audience members, which may have been the intention. Students proudly and openly protested Ventrella’s connection with the Alliance Defending Freedom, listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for promoting ideas such as the forced sterilization of queer people. Federalist Society board member Meredith Yates attempted to bring police officers into the room to control protestors before a law school dean assured the officers their presence wasn’t necessary.
Perhaps then, the Federalist Society wanted to make a statement in the name of free speech. For those non-legal readers, conservative jurists and scholars love to point to a legal test called strict scrutiny, in which the means must be most narrowly tailored to serve a legitimate interest. Here, Fed Soc surely could have more narrowly tailored their attempt to celebrate free speech without inviting a hate group to Van Hecke-Wettach Hall.
It is unclear what exactly the Federal Society hoped to gain or prove with this stunt as it served only to further alienate its members from their peers– a separation they constantly insist is evidence of a conspiracy against conservative thought on campus. Perhaps if they didn’t invite hate speech to campus, there would be no need to view their messages with inherent suspicion.
One leaves this debacle wondering why a student organization would choose to host such a divisive and hostile event only to end up saying... nothing.
– Mary Drue Hall, 2L at UNC School of Law