FIRE in the Courts

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s mission is to defend and sustain the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought—the most essential qualities of liberty. 

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Spectrum WT v. Walter Wendler: President Cancels Student-Organized Drag Show, Citing Religion, Natural Rights, and Intent to Violate the First Amendment, if Need Be

FIRE sues Texas university president for illegally blocking charity drag show

On March 20, 2023, Walter Wendler, the president of West Texas A&M University, abruptly canceled a drag show that a student group — Spectrum WT, an organization for LGBTQ+ students and their allies — was planning to hold at the public university. In an email (also posted on his personal blog) to students, faculty, and staff, Wendler denounced drag shows as “slapstick” intended to “denigrate and demean women.” Wendler said he would “not appear to condone” such speech, “even when the law of the land appears to require it.”

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Volokh v. James: Big Brother in the Big Apple: New York Law Turns Bloggers into Speech Police

Eugene Volokh plaintiff photo
Eugene Volokh

New York has enacted a new law with the goal of regulating disfavored—but constitutionally protected—online speech. State lawmakers passed the law in the wake of the tragic mass shooting by a white supremacist this past May in Buffalo, New York. It targets protected online speech that lawmakers consider “hateful,” and is so overbroad it reaches a vast swath of the internet. The law seems to be just the first step in further regulation of online speech—which, if adopted, would also violate the First Amendment. But FIRE is fighting back. On Dec. 1, we sued New York’s Attorney General in federal court on behalf of Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment scholar and co-founder of The Volokh Conspiracy blog, and online platforms Rumble and Locals, seeking to stop enforcement of New York’s unconstitutional law.

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Novoa v. Diaz: Florida Board of Governors: Florida Law Restricting How College Professors, Students Can Discuss Race and Sex

More than a half-century ago, the Supreme Court recognized that the First Amendment “does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom,” where “truth” is discovered not by “authoritative selection,” but “out of a multitude of tongues.” In a remarkable retreat from Florida’s Campus Free Expression Act, which recognized that universities should not “shield” students from “uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive” opinions,  Florida’s “Stop WOKE Act” imposes precisely the “pall of orthodoxy” that the Supreme Court warned about decades ago.

Photos of FIRE Plaintiffs Adriana Novoa and Sam Rechek
Professor Adriana Novoa and student Sam Rechek are fighting against government censorship in Florida. (Credit: Will Simpson Photography)

The Stop WOKE Act prohibits “instruction” on eight specific “concepts” related to “race, color, national origin, or sex.” Fla. Stat. § 1000.05(4)(a). For example, the Stop WOKE Act unlawfully restricts discussions of whether individuals are unconsciously biased based on their race or sex; whether certain virtues — including “merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity, and racial colorblindness” — are racist; and whether particular races or sexes inherently have certain privileges or disadvantages. But in dictating to faculty and students what ideas may be considered in a college classroom, Florida’s political leaders have run headlong into the First Amendment. 

On August 6, 2022, a University of South Florida professor of history, undergraduate student, and student organization — represented by FIRE — sued in federal court to challenge the Stop WOKE Act for violating their constitutional rights. 

Read more about FIRE's lawsuit against the Stop Woke Act


Collin Community College District: History Professor Fired for Criticizing Mike Pence and Her College’s COVID-19 Response Online

Burnett victory
Collin College history professor Lora Burnett

Lora Burnett was a full-time history professor at Collin College. Like many Americans, Burnett shared her thoughts about important public issues, such as the 2020 presidential election and the COVID-19 pandemic on Twitter. During the October 2020 vice presidential debate, Burnett tweeted: “The moderator needs to talk over Mike Pence until he shuts his little demon mouth up.” Burnett also criticized Collin College’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She publicly challenged Collin College President H. Neil Matkin’s assessment that the pandemic was “blown utterly out of proportion.” She also informed the public about the death of a former Collin College professor by tweeting, “Another @collincollege professor has died of COVID.” In private text exchanges with Texas State Rep. Jeff Leach, who was apparently upset about Burnett’s tweets concerning the debate, President Matkin promised to “deal with it” and later terminated Burnett.

Read more about Lora's Victory

Eastern Virginia Medical School: Medical Student Unconstitutionally Prohibited from Starting Student Club Promoting Healthcare Reform

Eastern Virginia Medical School student Edward Si
Eastern Virginia Medical School student Edward Si

Edward Si, a medical student at Eastern Virginia Medical School, applied to form a chapter of Students for a National Health Program, a national student organization dedicated to advocating for a single-payer health system, in December 2020. EVMS’s Student Government Association denied the application because it did “not want to create clubs based on opinions, political or otherwise, and the mission and goals of [SNaHP] do not describe what we believe to be necessary or sustainable for a club.”

Read more about FIRE's advocacy for Edward

LAWSUIT: Student journalist SUES his university, and WINS! 

Haskell Indian Nations University Student Journalist Jared Nally
Student journalist Jared Nally

The president of Haskell Indian Nations University issued an unconstitutional directive to student journalist Jared Nally, editor-in-chief of the award winning student newspaper, The Indian Leader, that formally forbade Jared from engaging in protected journalistic activities. Without any notice or explanation, Haskell withheld more than $10,000 from the paper’s expected funds. He also directed Jared to start showing university administrators the “highest respect” — or else!

On March 2, 2021, on the heels of Student Press Freedom Day 2021, Nally and The Indian Leader — represented by FIRE — sued Haskell. In bringing this lawsuit, Nally and The Indian Leader seek to hold Haskell’s leadership accountable for flagrantly violating clearly established First Amendment rights — and make sure students and student journalists at Haskell and nationwide can ask questions, report the news, and talk with each other about what matters most to them.

Read more about Jared's lawsuit