The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

FIRE Branches Out into Free Speech Beyond Universities, Planning $75M Litigation and Public Education Campaign

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is becoming the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.


From Josh Gerstein (Politico):

"To say the least, we have not solved the campus free-speech problem, but we started to realize if we wanted to save free speech on campus we have to start earlier and we have to do things not on campus," the group's president, Greg Lukianoff, said.

Lukianoff said FIRE has raised $28.5 million for a planned three-year, $75 million litigation, opinion research and public education campaign aimed at boosting and solidifying support for free-speech values.

"There's a very strong belief in not just the First Amendment, but a culture of freedom of speech that — black or white, liberal or conservative — that most Americans think you should be entitled to your own opinion and not have to lose your job over that," Lukianoff said. "The voices that think of free speech as a dirty word on campus or on Twitter are actually a pretty small minority." …

The new initiative includes $10 million in planned national cable and billboard advertising featuring activists on both ends of the political spectrum extolling the virtues of free speech, officials said.

One TV spot includes a former Emerson College student, K.J. Lynum, whose conservative group was suspended by the school's president for circulating "China kinda sus" stickers promoting the theory that a Chinese government lab caused the oubreak of Covid-19. "Freedom of speech is our right as Americans and we must do everything we can to protect it," Lynum says over images of Martin Luther King Jr. and a young anti-abortion activist.

Another ad features a Montana State University student, Stefan Klaer, who was ordered to take down a Black Lives Matter banner from his dorm room window. "If you silence people, you never get to hear the other side," Klaer says….

[Former ACLU executive director Ira] Glasser, who serves on a FIRE advisory board, said in an interview that he "strongly encouraged" FIRE to broaden its free-speech work in part because the ACLU seems to be abdicating that role….

"This is a welcome development," [the current ACLU executive director Anthony] Romero said in a statement. "Challenges to free speech are proliferating from both the left and the right, and the nation needs more organizations dedicated to upholding our most fundamental right." …

Among those endorsing FIRE's expansion are former ACLU President Nadine Strossen and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.

The FIRE press release adds that FIRE is

  • Seeking off-campus free speech legal case submissions. Americans who believe their free speech rights were violated can submit their case to FIRE at
  • Hiring additional staff in support of its current and expanded mission. FIRE currently has 14 open positions. Principled free speech advocates can apply at

Over its 23 years of advocacy, FIRE has won more than 500 direct advocacy victories on behalf of college students and faculty members (with thousands more resolved behind-the-scenes), secured 425 campus policy changes affecting 5 million students, helped pass rights-protective legislation in 20 states, and drove a nationwide reduction in the prevalence of the most restrictive kinds of campus speech codes, from 75% in 2007 to 18% today.

Defending individual rights in higher education remains one of FIRE's core competencies.

"Our defense of freedom of speech and inquiry on campus will remain core to what we do and will grow in the coming years," said Lukianoff. "But we have come to realize that defending the First Amendment and a culture of free speech off-campus is essential to protecting those values on-campus, just as much as fighting for those values on-campus is essential for preserving them off-campus.

"We need to remind older Americans that freedom of speech is still a value worth fighting for, and we need to teach younger Americans that everything from scientific progress, to artistic expression, to social justice, peace, and living authentic lives requires the staunch protection of freedom of speech for all."

Disclosure: FIRE engaged me to consult on some matters related to this expansion; but I wasn't asked to put up this post, and, as readers will note, I have been writing about FIRE's cases for a long time—I have long thought it does excellent and important work, and I'm very glad to see that it has taken on this broader mission (though one entirely consistent with its original mission).