Free Minds & Free Markets

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 FirstJorge SalcedoA 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."

Photo Credit: Jorge Salcedo

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.

  • Fist of Etiquette||


    No, we need to take the speech first, go through due process second.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    Free speech is good in theory, but we as libertarians must remember that hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment. I'm sure we can all agree this organization shouldn't protect a white student who ran around campus shouting the N-word. That would make students of color feel unsafe. Similarly, statements like "illegal aliens should be deported" don't deserve protection either, since they make undocumented people feel unsafe.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Feeble troll attempt: too obvious and repetitive.

  • MasterThief||

    And yet it isn't too far from what Hinkle, Shackford, ENB, Soave, Gillespie, etc. say in many of their articles. An obvious troll attempt, but there are writers on this very site writing articles that make the same case.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Not even close. Keep dreaming and pretending.

  • Azathoth!!||

    You're right--OBLs comment is not repetitive at all.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    Hey, that's its shtick.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    OBL is a resident comic who parodies lefties. Pretty funny guy. Not to be taken seriously.

  • Vernon Depner||

    It's no longer possible to parody lefties. Their actual expressed views are indistinguishable from parody.

  • p3orion||

  • FlameCCT||

    Does it hurt being that ignorant?

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    Sorry, no federal court at any level has ever recognized an exception to the first amendment for "hate speech".

  • Rebel Scum||

    hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment

    I know you're a parody, but: "hate-speech" is still speech. And it is not "free-speech", it's "The Freedom of Speech". And you have it, or you don't.

  • Rebel Scum||

    shouting the N-word. That would make students of color feel unsafe.

    Ironically, colored students (did I say that right?) are the only one's I ever hear saying the word "nigger"...and they always say it to each other...

  • sharmota4zeb||

    They say it's a way of taking the word and neutralizing it so that it is no longer an insult. It's a bit like when a wife says, "I want to be your bitch tonight," as opposed to a construction worker saying, "Damn, bitch! You look fine!"

  • Teddy Pump||

    HAHAHA!!!!.....U make me feel unsafe....I mean I'm scared of brainless Zombie Sheeple like U walking around America!

  • John||

    They are going to be out there doing God's work in some of America's most retarded neighborhoods.*

    *For those who don't get the reference, the infamous Joe from Lowell once described ACORN as "out there doing God's work in some of America's toughest neighborhoods".

  • ||

  • ||

    Snowflakes! How dare they respond?!

    It really is telling it has come to this.

  • John||

    I think most students just don't care and just want to graduate and get on with their lives. The problem is that there is a small percentage of students who are broken nasty people that are able to bully the others because they have the support of equally nasty faculty and dealing with a fanatic is generally more trouble than it is worth. Most people rationally just let the fanatic win and then move on with their lives.

  • ||

    Pretty much what my friend who is a professor of architecture says. Loud mouth'd shnook minority. But he admits they're problematic and dangerous at this point. And the schools are almost clueless on how to handle it.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    In the old days, professors would just make essays a significant part of the grade and mark them based on vague criteria. That way, they could give good marks to the students they liked and bad marks to the students they didn't like. Kids back then were bright enough to figure it out and not disagree with a professor's worldview by the time they finished freshman year.

  • MasterThief||

    Will this group only defend members, or is voluntary membership just the funding mechanism for a broader goal of supporting first amendment rights on campus?

  • Rossami||

    I had the same question. Their website implies but that membership is not necessary for defense. However, membership (even if applied for after the fact) would certainly make it easier for the organization to intervene in a lawsuit so the courts may make it a de facto requirement even if the organization doesn't.

    Their website does say that membership gets you invitations to member-only events and teleconferences, advance notifications of case updates, and something about travel scholarship. Still seems a little fuzzy but not unreasonable for an organization that's just starting up. I'll give 'em a fin.

  • Rossami||

    Update: Actually giving them the $5 was surprisingly difficult. Their payment webpage and my browser's basic security settings did not get along. They need to set up a paypal alternative.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    If they defend even bad speech, then I support them.

  • ||

    How about they defend just plain old speech without the descriptors?

  • Cynical Asshole||

    But then how would you know who to root for without the descriptors? /sarc

  • Brandybuck||

    How long until Speech First is declared by the woke to be racist? Oh wait, it's probably already happened.

  • ||

    The SPLC is on it!

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    I have long wanted to belong to something on their list, but just cannot see myself joining Focus on the Family. This may be my chance.

  • Teddy Pump||

    And the good ol ADL!!!

  • DajjaI||

    Ugh this is not what it appears to be. Yes speech rights are under attack. But guess what? Free speech applies to the listener as much as the speaker. They are trying to shut down and criminalize 'disruption' of speakers, e.g.: "violent protestors heckling speakers". Of course violence is wrong. But you are allowed to speak out at events peacefully. The protesters at Trump's rallies will be remembered as heroes, and the hecklers at the Shakespeare in the Park just embarrassed themselves and were removed and actually served to vindicate the performance. If we criminalize such acts then not only is that a violation of free speech, but it will only make these champions/idiots martyrs and lead to new witch hunts. The fact is, you can disrupt an event in a public space as long as you are peaceful, and the fact is people have been doing it and it's not a problem - the disruption lasts for a minute or two at most. Ben Shapiro handles it best - "If you disagree with me, come to the front of the line."

    Censoring speech infringes the rights of students to express their opinions on campus. Just as important, it harms the rights of other students to listen to the speech

    In fact there is no such right despite your strongly held conviction to the contrary. Attempts to assert it will instigate new and unnecessary battles and result in endless grief.

  • John||

    The protestors at Trump rallies showed up to disrupt the rallies. By your own admission, that is not peaceful and an attack on speech.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Free speech applies to the listener as much as the speaker.

    No, it doesn't. 'Listeners' are, by definition, listening. .If you've come to disrupt, you didn't come to listen.

    More importantly, listeners don't get to pick what OTHERS want to listen to. This is the crux of things--the so-called 'protesters' are trying to prevent people who WANT to listen from hearing what they want to hear.

    And denying someone elses rights isn't part of ANY right.

    . But you are allowed to speak out at events peacefully.

    And when they do that no one minds.

  • Bacon-Magic glib reasonoid||

    Daijal is so stupid it hurts to read his first 5 sentences.

  • DajjaI||

    Stop heckling me!

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    So, "speech" that is clearly intended to disrupt and prevent or obstruct "speech" is still legal and ok "speech," right?

  • Brandybuck||

    It's about disrupting speech. But even positing the right to interfer and disrupt unwoke speech, the reason thsi organization exists is to prevent campus administrators DENYING SPEECH. People who can't speak because admins cancelled their speaking event.

    Shouting is rude, but still legal. Denying someone the ability to speak at a speaking venue after following proper procedures for scheduling the event at a taxpayer funded venue, clearly crosses the First Amendment line. It's not a fuzzy line, it's quite bright and distinct. A blanket ban on on conservative and libertarian speech at public universities merely because it makes fragile snowflakes sad is clearly and unambiguously illegal.

  • DajjaI||

    Fascinating! Please, continue:

  • sharmota4zeb||

    The organizer of an event has the prerogative to silence or expel someone. That is the nature of free assembly and the difference between an even and a stroll through the park.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Added to the SPLC's "hate group" list in 3... 2... 1...

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    If that happens I'm joining, because I've always wanted to be in something on their list, just never wanted to join anything on their list.

  • chemjeff||

    Good for them!

  • Rebel Scum||

    There's no such thing as free speech or hate speech. There is just the freedom of speech. And you either have it or you don't.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    I am glad those guys formed Speech First.

  • Gordito||

    I'm a little late to the party here, but I signed up for this yesterday when I read the article, and promptly forgot about it in favor of work. I just realized I didn't receive a confirmation and had to dig through my inbox to find it.

    Anyone who wants to join can use the promo code 'TEAMWORK' to join for free.

    Also, since the article doesn't mention it, their website is: ''


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online