Campus Free Speech

Meet Speech First, a New Combatant in the Campus Free Speech Wars

"We wanted to capitalize on the real groundswell of support behind free speech from all walks of life."


Speech First
Jorge Salcedo

A brand new legal organization has joined the fight to defend free expression on college campuses.

Speech First, which plans to sue universities for violating students' free speech rights, announced its arrival on Wednesday. Its president is Nicole Neily, a former executive director of the Independent Women's Forum and manager of external relations for the Cato Institute.

"When students' speech rights on campus are violated, it's tough to fight back," Neily said in a statement. "A lone student doesn't stand a chance against a school with a huge endowment and an army of lawyers. It's a real David versus Goliath situation. That's why Speech First was created."

Speech First is a membership organization for students, faculty, parents, alumni, and concerned citizens. Members pay a one-time $5 fee, which connects them to a network of people "who are fighting to preserve the freedom of speech on college campuses, according to the organization's website.

In the future, the group will be filing lawsuits in defense of students' First Amendment on specific campuses, in the same vein as the work being done by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Alliance Defending Freedom. There are certainly enough free speech violations on campuses each year to justify the existence of multiple legal defense groups concentrated on the issue. And as a membership organization, Speech First is structured slightly differently than those other organizations, Neily tells me.

"That was done intentionally, because we wanted to capitalize on the real groundswell of support behind free speech from all walks of life—not just students, but also parents, alumni, and concerned citizens," she says. "By channeling that enthusiasm, we're able to show students that there's an army of people behind them—and to convey to schools that there's an army that is passionate about defending speech rights."