The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education announced a major litigation effort Tuesday against universities that maintain clearly illegal speech codes.
With help from the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, FIRE is suing several universities that manifestly and unconstitutionally deprive their students of First Amendment rights.
"Universities' stubborn refusal to relinquish their speech codes must not be tolerated," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff during a press conference.
For now, suits have been filed against Ohio University, Iowa State University, Chicago State University, and Citrus College in California. These universities have all trampled students' free speech rights, according to FIRE.
Lukianoff explained that FIRE would not hesitate to expand the suits until all universities abandon their speech codes, which were ruled unconstitutional decades ago but have endured at more than 50 percent of colleges, according to the foundation's research.
An OU student provided an illustrative example at the press conference. His student rights organization, OU Students Defending Students, ran afoul of university administrators because he created T-shirts for the organization that featured a risque phrase ("We help get you off").
"Unpopular speech at Ohio University is discouraged at every turn," said the student. "[Administrators'] efforts to create a friendlier campus is undoubtedly doing the opposite."
Lukianoff explained that FIRE has been reluctant to become primarily a litigation organization, but its previous efforts to persuade colleges to forego censorship have been inadequate, he said.
During a Q and A session, Lukianoff was asked why he thought now was the time for such a litigation effort. He explained that the massive expansion of college bureaucracy poses a grave threat to students' rights. There are now more administrators on campuses than ever before—far more bureaucrats than teachers, in fact—which has led to a "mindless application of ridiculous rules," he said.
Below, ReasonTV talks with FIRE about challenges to free speech on college campuses.