College Republicans issue statement following speaker controversy and disaffiliation
Editor's Note: This is part of larger coverage regarding the Oct. 19 meeting of College Republicans that resulted in their disaffiliation on Oct. 21, and is being followed by an ASWU investigation. As this is the College Republicans' first public statement on the matter, The Collegian decided to publish it as received, without edits or abridgment. Publication is not agreement or endorsement. The statements of SSU and College Democrats can be seen here.
"The purpose of this statement is to provide a factual description of the speaker event on October 19, 2021 and to apologize on behalf of the Willamette University College Republicans (WUCR). We are not trying to excuse anything, but merely to explain and present the truth.
The speaker, Salem-based constitutional lawyer Ray Hacke, was known by a relative of a WUCR member and was invited to speak about his work and constitutional law in Oregon. This was all that we knew about the speaker before he came. Prior to the event, we had no knowledge of the speaker’s affiliation with a legal organization called the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a Southern Poverty Law Center designated anti-LGBTQ+ hate group. We made sure that his invitation to campus was in compliance with COVID policies, and the speaker was at no point paid for the visit, neither with ASWU nor private funds.
Mr. Hacke’s presentation focused on constitutional law in Oregon during the pandemic and legal cases he had worked on or heard of. The meeting took place between regular bi-weekly meetings, and many but not all College Republicans were present. It had been advertised on the club email listserv and for members on the Discord, but not the wider campus, though anyone was free to come. Three members of the Student Solidarity Union (SSU) were present for the entirety of the meeting. None of these SSU members had been present for any previous College Republicans meetings or activities. As a specialist on the First Amendment and religious freedom, Mr. Hacke discussed prior cases and legal issues surrounding religious exemptions to vaccination mandates, street preaching, church lockdowns, and religious liberties. One of the cases Mr. Hacke described concerned an Oregon school district in which unvaccinated individuals are required to wear N95 or KN95 masks and are subjected to differential treatment, which has led to them being singled out for harassment. In light of this mistreatment, these plaintiffs expressed the feeling that having to wear a special mask that broadcasts their otherwise private vaccination status at some level resembled other historical ostracization policies, like a yellow star or mark of leprosy. In a separate comment, Mr. Hacke said with a laugh that “some people might call [Governor Kate Brown] a dictator,” but at no point made the comparison himself or referenced Adolf Hitler. LGBTQ+ issues were not discussed during the speech.
After Mr. Hacke’s presentation, individuals asked questions of the speaker. One SSU member asked about the role of religion as grounds to not recognize gender identity. The speaker, referencing relevant Supreme Court cases, stated in response that both freedom of speech and freedom of religion protect individuals from compelled speech, which includes having to use particular gender pronouns. Later into questions, another SSU member, who had arrived only after the speaker’s presentation, stood up and declared the speaker morally “disgusting” and “disrespectfully disagreed” with the speaker as they conflated him with having made the yellow star comparison himself. The speaker clarified that neither he nor his clients believe that this mask policy is akin to genocide. A short exchange occurred in which the speaker attempted to explain that he was not personally drawing this comparison and also said that many people would justifiably think it an “extreme comparison.” Nobody was misgendered during the course of the speech or questions. At no point during the meeting did Mr. Hacke advocate for any form of violence. The SSU members also appeared unaware that the speaker was affiliated with a legal group classified as an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group by the SPLC.
On behalf of the Willamette University College Republicans, we extend our sincerest apologies to the entire Willamette community. Our club is committed to free speech and open debate. In pursuit of this goal, our purpose in inviting any speaker is to gain a better understanding of different sides of a political debate. We may not always agree with them as a club or as individuals. We as a club in no way intend to give our endorsement or support to each speaker or every nuance of their speech. It has never been our intention to harm or offend members of our Willamette community. We, the Willamette University College Republicans, firmly believe in personal responsibility and accountability, and we will be the first to admit our own mistakes. We made a mistake by not doing our due diligence in researching this speaker and the legal organization with which he is affiliated prior to this event. Our club is committed to ensuring procedures are put in place so that future guests, no matter the size of the audience or occasion, will be appropriately vetted. We hope that this statement provides insights and clarity into the events of October 19 and reassurances that this mistake will not be made again.
The Willamette University College Republicans Leadership Team"