A few weeks ago, FIRE proudly announced to Torch readers that FIRE President Greg Lukianoff was the inaugural recipient of the Playboy Foundation’s Freedom of Expression Award. Last night, Greg was formally honored at the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards ceremony held at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Also honored at the ceremony were Heather Gillman, a Florida high school senior who spoke out on behalf of gay rights, and Mark Klein, a California resident who spoke out against government violations of individual privacy.
At last night’s ceremony, Greg and the other honorees joined the ranks of the more than 125 notable advocates for First Amendment freedoms who have been recognized with the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment awards over the last three decades. Christie Hefner, Chairman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises, said of this year’s award recipients, “I know the examples set by the winners of the 2008 Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards will inspire everyone who cares about our precious American legacy of civil liberties.” With the speech that he delivered as the recipient of the Freedom of Expression Award, Greg did exactly that:
I cannot tell you how excited I am to be the first recipient of the Playboy Foundation Freedom of Expression Award and to be here tonight with such courageous individuals.
First of all I would like to thank my Mom, Dad, and family. I would also like to thank those who wrote recommendations on my behalf: Eugene Volokh, John Leo, Derek Shaffer, Kathleen Sullivan, Nat Hentoff, and Harvey Silverglate. Thank you to David Rubenstein for nominating me and a special thank you to the judges, especially Nadine, who was one of the people who really inspired me to pursue a career in defending free speech.
I have spent the last seven years defending the rights of college students and faculty and trying to explain to a wider audience how serious the problem on college campuses has become. Just in the last year I have seen a case where, for example, a student employee was found guilty of racial harassment for reading a book celebrating the defeat of the Ku Klux Klan in a 1926 street fight because others found the pictures on the cover offensive. At another college a student was found to be a “clear and present danger” because of a collage he made criticizing a new parking garage. That same school maintained a tiny “free speech zone” for all 11,000 students which was only available from noon to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., and then only with 48 hours notice! Meanwhile, Brandeis University stubbornly refuses to back down from a finding of racial harassment against a professor who used the word “wetback” in his Latin American studies class to criticize the word.
Particularly given the all too common practice of students destroying student newspapers, in some cases burning them, or destroying student protest displays if they disagree with the message, we have real reason to worry that a generation is being raised that neither understands nor appreciates the essentiality of defending our most precious rights. A generation that believes it has far fewer rights than it does and, in fact, wrongly believes it has a duty to silence opinions that might be troubling or unpopular poses a serious threat to the long term survival of all of our freedoms.
It is for this reason that I am designating that 100% of my award go to FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network. The Campus Freedom Network is FIRE’s effort to recruit students and faculty on campus to stand up for basic rights and teach others about their essentiality to our Republic. In just two years we have grown from nothing to nearly 1000 members, and I believe the CFN is our best chance to not only preserve our rights but to inspire the next generation to choose freedom of speech and thought instead of enforced conformity.
One nice thing about being a FIRE donor is I also get to decide exactly how the money is used, and I am announcing tonight that I have instructed that it be used as a matching grant to double the effectiveness of other donations to the CFN up to the full amount of $25,000.
I hope you will consider giving to FIRE and finding out more about the problems on campus! Thank you again for this award and I look forward to sharing a drink with you all.
Greg’s decision to donate his award in support of FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty was as inspirational as his words. The award ceremony last night afforded Greg the unique honor of sharing the stage with two individuals who stepped up and took action to defend their rights when the need arose—proving that anyone can take a stand to protect First Amendment freedoms.
With the announcement that he is committing 100% of his award money to a matching gift fund in support of FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network (CFN), Greg challenged FIRE supporters to step up and do the same by contributing specifically to a program that effects real change on campus through the empowerment of individuals at a grassroots level. With the support of FIRE, CFN members can follow in the footsteps of Gillman and Klein by stepping up to defend their freedoms in the face of overbearing administrators, and FIRE supporters can help make this possible through contributions to the CFN.
Through his matching gift fund, Greg invites other FIRE donors to join him in supporting the efforts of the CFN, and Greg hopes to double the effect of his donation with gifts from individual donors like you. If you are interested in giving to the fund, please indicate that your donation is in support of the CFN.
FIRE is proud of Greg’s accomplishments and thankful for his generosity. The existence and success of FIRE’s programs is only possible because of the support of our donors. Please consider contributing to match Greg’s generous gift and to help support FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network. You can visit www.thefire.org/support to learn about the many ways to give to FIRE. Every dollar helps us in the fight for liberty on America’s campuses.