Conservative pro-life speaker Jannique Stewart alleged that the Cornell Political Union discriminated against her because of her conservative Christian views in a Facebook post on Saturday. The accusation came after CPU disinvited her from speaking on the topic of abortion in April out of concern for “security” of their members and fear of high event security fees, CPU said.
CPU originally invited Stewart in January as a representative of the Life Training Institute — a speaking organization that “trains” pro-life advocates to speak persuasively — for a talk that was scheduled for April 23, CPU President John Sullivan Baker ’20 told The Sun.
In a Facebook post that had garnered over 270 comments and 160 shares by Tuesday night, Stewart wrote that her invitation to speak on abortion to the Cornell community to speak about abortion as a “moral wrong” was rescinded because of her “Conservative Christian” views.
CPU refuted this claim directly in a statement to The Sun.
“The accusations of discrimination that Jannique Stewart has levelled against the Cornell Political Union are false. We have never negatively characterized Ms. Stewart’s beliefs, nor have we ever attacked her character,” the statement read.
Stewart said she was first disinvited in mid-February but that she convinced the CPU to reconsider, which Baker denied, saying that CPU “never told her that we were going to reinvite her.”
According to Baker, CPU’s primary concern centered around “security” for its members — a claim that Stewart contested.
“We had discovered information [about] her past advocacy activities that could potentially lead to a situation in which the security of our members was jeopardized,” Baker told The Sun. “And to prevent security risks we would have had to be able to afford security and that’s not something we’re able to afford at this time.” Baker did not specify what “security risks” the organization is concerned about.
CPU also listed security fees as another reason for disinviting Stewart. In 2017, a talk presented by Tea Party movement co-founder Michael Johns costed $2,000 in security fees. No other CPU speaker has induced security fees since, according to Baker.
Stewart, however, told The Sun that the issue of security and security costs only was mentioned once. In her Facebook post, she said that her beliefs on sexual activity and marriage — that sexual activity should occur between a married man and a woman only — was the main reason CPU disinvited her.
“That is VIEWPOINT DISCRIMINATION,” she posted.
“The only time security fees was ever brought up was in the very first initial phone conversation — that the president and executive board would have to approve the date and topic and that if security fees were a problem then they would not approve the date and topic,” Stewart told The Sun.
“It was approved by the presiden[t] and CPU, so security fees are not an accurate representation at all of what was expressed to me,” she said. “Not once in any other conversation did security fees ever come up.”
CPU said the organization tries to invite speakers with both liberal and conservative viewpoints.
In the statement, CPU listed some of the “principled, conservative-leaning speakers” they had invited previously, including former Mayor of Indianapolis Greg Ballard and columnist Gordon Chang.
The student group still expects to host a debate on the topic of abortion, “one of the most important moral and social issues of our time,” CPU said. A previous public debate on abortion in 2017 was met with protests from students in support of reproductive rights, The Sun previously reported.
Stewart said that CPU feared similar protests if they invited her.
“They said they were concerned that if they do invite me as the speaker, knowing that I hold those views, there could be protests by various student groups,” Stewart said, “Or that I would be painted negatively by the Cornell newspaper.”
Stewart characterized the incident as indicative of a growing trend, saying that more universities are censoring conservative voices.