Rights in the News: FIRE at the Forefront of Free Speech Debates Nationwide

By on December 4, 2009

It’s been a highly spirited week of debate about the importance, and the limits, of free speech on the college campus. Inside Higher Ed reported this week on a newly released statement calling for the protection of free speech and academic freedom in the face of violent threats. Yale University receives particular criticism in the statement, following its decision to excise images of Mohammed from the book The Cartoons That Shook the World. FIRE is one of sixteen national organizations to endorse the statement.

Inside Higher Ed also reported on the newly updated "Declaration on Freedom of Expression" at Tufts University, which is troublingly vague in crucial areas, and leaves students open to the possibility of punishment for speech that is merely deemed to be offensive. Will made FIRE’s case to IHE, while Erica went into more detail on The Torch. See also John Leo’s take at Minding the Campus.

Meanwhile, at Cornell University, a robust debate has been taking place in the editorial pages of The Sun after a staff editorial wrongly stated that FIRE’s advocacy for the preservation of religious groups’ rights of free association is tantamount to endorsing discrimination, creating "an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, which threatens free expression." As Will noted earlier, the editorial has prompted some strong rebuttals, in particular an eloquent and stinging letter from CFN member and former FIRE intern John Cetta.

Meanwhile, I’ve blogged in detail about recent developments at Southwestern College in California, led in part by FIRE; Greg has rebroadcasted this blog in his Huffington Post column. Azhar, meanwhile, writes about an important free speech case before the Nebraska Supreme Court that has quickly become a focal point for the local media, and for which FIRE proudly submitted an amicus brief.

The controversy swirling around the proposed redesign of the University of Minnesota’s teacher education program has also continued to grow. As I wrote earlier, the political litmus tests advocated in a task group report have been reported and debated widely throughout the blogosphere (unfortunately, not always with the greatest attention to the facts). This week, the controversy is in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and FIRE will keep Torch readers updated as the national spotlight intensifies on Minnesota.