Campus Free Speech

In Major Announcement, FIRE Says It Will Sue Every College With a Speech Code Until Speech Codes Die Forever

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education announced a major litigation effort Tuesday against universities that maintain clearly illegal speech codes.


Marcus Obal / Wikimedia Commons

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.

NEXT: Why Is It So Hard to Understand Government Shouldn't Force Employers to Purchase Birth Control or Permit Guns on Premises?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. One of the commentors here complained awhile back that FIRE should put up or shut up. Here’s their answer, I guess.

    1. Dweeb, dunno who it was that was complaining about FIRE but they don’t have a clue. They worked with the 1851 Law Center in Ohio to bitchslap UC into compliance with 1A.

      1. Indeed they don’t have a clue: how else could they leave New York University off the list? That institution’s various assaults on free speech rights are well known and quite vicious. Just for one little example, see the documentation of how they handled the little matter of the “troll” who unwisely mocked a department chairman for his alleged plagiarism:

        1. P.s. “they” in my third sentence refers to NYU faculty officials, not to FIRE.

    2. I think they were bitching because FIRE doesn’t sue private universities. That’s idiotic, of course, since private speech codes are perfectly Constitutional.

      1. Gotcha, likely one of the resident lefty idiots.

      2. They sue private colleges if the private college has made what they see as a contractual promise to allow speech and then reneges on it.

        I guess they could elide criticism if they used more precise language, “We will keep suing schools that with speech codes that are public or which make representations of allowing speech'” instead of “we will keep suing schools that have speech codes.”

      3. I was wondering about this actually. Does accepting public money impact those speech codes in any way?

        I went to FIRE’s website and tried to find Liberty University’s rating — its code of conduct is amazing but, unfortunately, I can’t seem to find it on LU’s website — and the university wasn’t even in the database. So I’m assuming no.

        1. They don’t rate places like Liberty because they are private and make no representation of allowing free speech. The university taking federal money doesn’t make it a state actor for the 1st to apply.

          1. I thought Liberty also didn’t take federal money. I might be thinking of one of the other fundie Christian colleges or maybe it was a dream I had.

  2. We need a crowd-funding mechanism for lawsuits like this – perhaps.

    1. Apparently, that would be a good name for a band 😉

    2. I am going to take this idea seriously.

      People often bitch about finding a lawyer to sue for them and wanting the fees covered. If a crowdfunded site is built people can donate to a suit. If it doesnt have the merits in the court of public opinion then it doesnt get funded. If it does then the lawyer gets paid…if they are eligible to file for fees and are successful then fees get awarded to a charity.

      I am liking this more and more.

      I need to give this some more thought but damn it sounds like a great response to non-contingency cases *like almost every election law case I have ever been involved in*

      And young lawyers dont need to go pro bono to get a little experience…man I am diggin on this.

      1. In the meantime, don’t forget to contribute to public interest litigation organizations that are already engaging in pro-liberty work, such as the Institute for justice (httP;//, the Goldwater Institute (, etc.

        Here in Idaho, the Idaho Freedom Foundation has just this year launched the Center for Defense of Liberty (, which will be applying the IJ and Goldwater model to Idaho cases.

        What is needed is an easy way to connect liberty-minded people with pro-liberty organizations that are in need of funding. If something like that exists, it needs to be better publicized. If not, someone needs to make it happen. Of course, whatever solution is developed needs to make sure that it doesn’t run afoul of the Rules of Professional Conduct that each state bar has adopted.

      2. That sounds extremely illegal.

    3. Why not donate to FIRE and comment that you’d like the funds to support the litigation project? It looks like FIRE is paying the law firm’s bills, so they’d probably appreciate that.

      1. Overhead and choice.

        I donate directly to organizations I like and bypass United Way.

        With a crowd-funding, I could pick specific cases that interested me and met my personal priorities.

      2. I’ve been waiting an hour and half for that question 😉

  3. Pretty sure they have a target-rich environment in front of them.

    1. fire for effect.

  4. If they need an attorney in SC I’d be happy to do it.

    1. Give them a call, Greg is easy to get in touch with. They need all the help they can get.

      1. Agreed. They are passionate and talented, but they also have a huge task ahead of them. If you have any First Amendment background, RBS, you should do a little research on the speech policies of the various SC schools and see if there is a case to be made there. Then you can offer to serve as local counsel AND bring them some ideas for their first SC case. Also, FIRE’s site has a ton of information about their previous cases and letters, which might help guide your efforts.


    1. Be sure to give reason a call if it last more then 4 hours.

  6. FIRE fucking rocks. I remember joe from lol telling me that they’re really a closet conservative organization or some stupid shit like that. What a maroon.

    1. I think that sometimes comes from FIRE primarily (although not exclusively) defending conservative groups on campus.

      Of course, the rather obvious reason for that escapes most leftists and academics (although, I repeat myself).

      1. Funny thing there…after the lawsuit eliminated the ‘free speech zone’ at UC and obliterated the speech code, the Cincinnati Enquirer ran the story with a picture of the Occupy progs. Funny because it was my students in Young Americans for Liberty that brought the suit.

        1. Are you faculty at UC?

          1. I was full time faculty for 10 years (not tenured). After the suit my contract was not renewed.

            1. I’m sure that was just a coincidence.

              1. Yeah, no reason given on the dossier, just a ‘no’. But. I’m IT with a great reputation around town. I work in one of the best shops in town now, pay is a hell of lot better, co-workers are smart and motivated, and my kids are hearing all about the suit in the k-12 government and social studies classes. Life is good.

                1. Well, a good ending despite the higher ed BS.

  7. Well oh fucking shit…

    Redskins controversy? High school with debated name just wants to be left alone
    In the small Eastern Washington town of Wellpinit, the local high school gets dragged into the national debate over the sports mascot.

    It is home for the Spokane Tribe of Indians, and for 107 years, the Wellpinit High School mascot name has been Redskins.

    White folks are offended, and thus are swooping in to save the Native Americans from themselves!

    1. In related news, the rap group N.W.A. was sued by a coalition of white people over their group’s acronym, which disparaged African Americans and accused them of a lack of congeniality. All future sales of their recordings will be labeled,

      People of Color Making Positive Contributions to Their Community“, or POCMPCTTC

    2. I lived in Spokane and can attest that the issue has been going on for a good 20 years, that I can remember. I think the tribe’s response should be a resounding: Nigga, please!

      1. Ditto. And why is the Indians baseball team mascot a cartoon dinosaur? That is some real bullshit right there.

    3. The Navajo don’t seem to have a problem with the name either. Red Mesa high school in Arizona has Redskins as their team mascot.

    4. the national debate over the sports mascot.

      Oh, and by the way, the “national debate” is just a bunch of white people in a PC circle jerk.

      1. With 0bama as the pivot man.

  8. SMELL THAT, KIDS? THAT’S THE SMELL OF FREEDOM. Well, freedom in a small preselected square of muddy land on the edge of your university. FIRE should enlist that singer Adele in their quest. She’s got a thing or two to say about setting things on fire.

    1. Mustn’t forget Katniss Everdeen.

      Much as I wish I could.

  9. Thank you for reminding me of a common refrain circa 1990 or so =

    “Sue who?
    Sue you.
    Sue me?
    Why not? Sue everybody!”

  10. Also OT but somewhat relevant: I was sharing an elevator with two other proggie interns that live in the same apartment complex, and they were just so aghast that SCOTUS ruled in favor of hobby lobby. One of them even said “yeah, I don’t know all the specifics, but I’m sure Jon Stewart will cover it on his show tomorrow.” Christ. I haz a sad.

  11. smart move. go after the money before the plaintiffs lawyers empty the endowments over the rape tribunals.

  12. Is there a limit on the number of posts you can make on a particular thread at Reason H&R? I don’t post all that often but I made four posts on Ed’s story and now I no longer have comment or reply links there.

    1. Yeah, that has come up following the server “upgrades” and the Squirrel Wars of last week.

      Not sure what the rules are or why.

      1. I remember where I was during the Great Skwerl Warz of ’14.

        Alone, hidden in my cubicle, a single flat panel showing me a blank screen after I had hit “Submit”…Submit, truly an Orwellian word. The Skwerlz were looking for total submission but without submissions.

        It was a dark time.

        1. The June Skwerl Days

  13. OT: Reason I like the logo for the O’Care series but it could stand some improvement…


  14. When I was to be disciplined at VCU for violating speech codes all I had to do was threaten to bring FIRE in and the entire matter was dropped.

    A few victories and maybe FIRE can bring that fear back.

    1. Well played Tak, but really we’d like to see these bullshit fascist tactics ended…to watch them die in a fire, so to speak.

    2. Always yell FIRE in a crowded university.

  15. FIRE does rank private universities – my own alma mater is private and they are stilled ranked. They had a red rating for a while, and I told the nice students who kept calling me and asking for money that I wouldn’t give another dime until it was green. Several of my conversations with them were quite entertaining, yet also quite depressing.

  16. People are turning into wussies.

  17. Its awesome.. Start working at home with Google. It’s a great work at home opportunity. Just work for few hours. I earn up to $100 a day. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out

  18. Kudos. While you’re at it, how about expanding this to high schools as well?

  19. That’s hateful!

  20. Only slightly off topic:…..hts-event/

  21. Sue Today, Sue Tomorrow, Sue Forever.
    Couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch of Richard Craniums.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.