Litigation: FIRE in the Courts | The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

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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FEATURED CASES

Hall-Rayford v. Owens

Mary Hall-Rayford
Mary Hall-Rayford

If you are a resident of Eastpointe, Michigan, who peacefully criticizes the mayor during the city council’s “hearing of the public,” there’s a good chance you may find yourself shouted down, cut off, and ruled out of order. That’s what happened to Mary Hall-Rayford, Karen Beltz, Karen Mouradjian, and Cindy Federle when they criticized Mayor Monique Owens during Eastpointe City Council meetings.

Mayor Owens’s actions are unconstitutional. When a city invites public comments during council meetings, the regulation of the public’s speech is restrained by the First Amendment. On November 9, 2022, FIRE filed a federal lawsuit against Mayor Monique Owens and the City of Eastpointe, seeking an injunction requiring the mayor and city to allow peaceful criticism at Eastpointe City Council meetings. Mayor Owens swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, not herself.

Read More About This Case


Villarreal v. City of Laredo, et al.: Journalism is not a Crime

Citizen Journalist Priscilla Villareal
Priscilla Villarreal

Americans shouldn’t be jailed for peaceably asking public officials a question. But that is what officials in Laredo, Texas did to Priscilla Villarreal. FIRE is stepping in to defend Priscilla’s First Amendment rights and the rights of all Americans to ask public servants for information. And what’s more, to help ensure public officials who violate essential First Amendment rights are held accountable.

Priscilla is a citizen journalist who has gained a loyal following on social media because of her unfiltered reporting on local matters, including police and government conduct (and misconduct). Desperate to silence her, local officials dug up a statute—never used by local authorities in the law’s 23-year history—to arrest Priscilla for asking a police officer to confirm information she had already received from other sources.

Asking public servants for information is something thousands of journalists and other citizens do every day. And it is something the First Amendment obviously protects, as decisions from the Supreme Court make clear. But Laredo tried to criminalize Villarreal’s exercise of this essential First Amendment right.

Read more about Priscilla Villarreal's Lawsuit


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


NeuroClastic: Autistic-Led Nonprofit Organization Stands Up for Free Speech Against Bully’s Threat of Defamation Suit

Zoey Read, credit: Whitney Ingram, Odja LLC

NeuroClastic Advisory Board Member Zoey Read.

NeuroClastic, Inc. is a small, autistic-led, nonprofit organization that criticized the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center’s use of electric shocks on autistic people to suppress their behaviors. Based outside of Boston, the Rotenberg Center is the only facility in the United States using such electric-shock devices — a practice so notorious that it was condemned by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.

In August 2021, NeuroClastic surveyed professionals in the field of applied behavior analysis regarding the Rotenberg Center’s use of the device. The findings, which were published on NeuroClastic’s website, note that 89% of survey respondents were “strongly opposed” to the electric-shock device.

On April 27, 2022, the Rotenberg Center sent NeuroClastic a cease-and-desist letter arguing that seven statements in the article were defamatory. It threatened to sue NeuroClastic for damages if it did not permanently and immediately delete the objectionable statements.

On August 30, 2022, FIRE demanded that the Rotenberg Center drop its baseless threat of litigation.

Read more about FIRE's advocacy for NeuroClastic


New York State Senate Blocks Critics on Twitter

Will Silver
New York resident William J. Silver

If you’re a New Yorker who criticizes the New York State Senate on Twitter, you may find your tweet hidden or account blocked. That’s what happened to William J. Silver along with countless others who criticized New York’s plan to consider new gun control legislation.

After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York statute requiring a license to carry a firearm outside of the home, Governor Kathy Hochul called an extraordinary session of the state legislature to consider and adopt new gun control legislation. The New York State Senate tweeted that the session would “take up legislation in response to recent changes in federal law.”

Silver responded with a tweet of his own, quoting two words from the Second Amendment: “Shall not.” The New York State Senate quickly hid Silver’s tweet and blocked his account.

Read more about FIRE's letter to the New York State Senate


Clovis Community College: California College Censors Conservatives on Campus

Clovis Community College Student Alejandro Flores
Young Americans for Freedom member Alejandro Flores is suing Clovis Community College. (Alvarez Photography Studio)

Plaintiffs Alejandro Flores, Daniel Flores, and Juliette Colunga are students at Clovis Community College and founding members of the college’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF-Clovis), a conservative student group. To spread their message and attract new members, Alejandro, Daniel, and Juliette — like many other students — post flyers in the hallways their peers walk through every day on their way to and from class. In November 2021, YAF-Clovis obtained the college’s permission to post flyers criticizing communist regimes on indoor bulletin boards. However, after administrators received a complaint that the flyers’ content made “several people . . . uncomfortable,” Clovis President Lori Bennett ordered her staff to pull the flyers down.

Read more about FIRE's lawsuit against Clovis


University of Washington: Professor Punished for Expressing Dissenting Opinion

University of Washington Professor Stuart Reges
University of Washington Professor Stuart Reges (Jessica Cruz, Twinkle Don’t Blink)

Stuart Reges is an award-winning professor at the University of Washington in the Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. Administrators punished Professor Reges after he challenged the University’s position on Native American land ownership. The Allen School encourages professors to include on their syllabi a statement recognizing that the land on which the university sits was once owned by indigenous tribes. Professor Reges disagreed with the University’s “Indigenous Land Acknowledgement Statement” — instead, he challenged his students and fellow faculty to consider the utility and performative nature of land acknowledgments by including a modified statement on his syllabus.

Read more about FIRE's advocacy for Stuart


Collin Community College District: History Professor Fired for Talking About History, Criticizing the College’s COVID-19 Response

Collin College Professor Michael Phillips
Collin County Community College Professor Michael Phillips (Eli Mabli Photography)

Michael Phillips is an award-winning history professor at Collin College in McKinney, Texas. As an expert on the history of race relations, Phillips spoke out in the media advocating for removing Confederate monuments in Dallas. Two years later, he granted a media interview about a racially motivated shooting in El Paso by a former Collin College student. Collin College administrators disciplined Phillips because his comments to the press made the College “look bad” and violated a directive by the president forbidding faculty from speaking about the shooting.

Read more FIRE's lawsuits against Collin College


Collin Community College District: Professor Unconstitutionally Fired for Unionizing, Criticizing the College’s COVID-19 Response

Collin College plaintiff Suzanne Jones Credit JX Studio
Collin College plaintiff Suzanne Jones (JX Studio)

Suzanne Jones worked as professor of education for twenty years at Collin College before the College terminated her for unionizing faculty and criticizing the College’s plan to return to in-person teaching in the Fall of 2020. Jones helped author a resolution summarizing faculty concerns with returning to teach in-person during the COVID–19 pandemic in June 2020, and suggesting alternatives to in-person teaching. In response, the College’s president H. Neil Matkin ridiculed the resolution by claiming that it contained false information.

Read more about FIRE's lawsuits against Collin College


Tarleton State University: Texas University Covers Up Professor’s ‘Highly Inappropriate’ Behavior by Censoring Student Newspaper and Unlawfully Withholding Public Records

This public university in Texas, one of America’s 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech—paid a professor to leave after he was accused of booking a hotel room for himself and a female student without her knowledge during travel, and inviting another student to his home for a movie, dinner, and drinks while his wife was away. Three years later, after the professor threatened to sue the student newspaper Texan News Service for reporting the story, Tarleton gave the student editors a choice: lose the articles or lose the paper’s funding. Tarleton then seized editorial control from the students and now falsely claims—contrary to the paper’s policy handbook and history—that Texan News Service was never independent.

Read more about FIRE's lawsuit against Tarleton

 


Marshall University: Microbiology Professor Fired for Hyperbolic Classroom Speech About COVID-19 and Trump Supporters

Jennifer Mosher Marshall University

Jennifer Mosher is a tenured microbiology professor at Marshall University in Huntington, WV. On September 15, 2020, as students were logging on to her virtual lecture, one student made an offhand remark about “thinning the gene pool,” referring to individuals who were not following public health requirements on masking. Mosher agreed, joking that she hoped “certain groups of people holding rallies” — presumably referencing President Trump’s campaign rallies — “all die before the election.” Later, after showing a video about pandemic readiness in her Biology of COVID-19 lecture, Mosher made similar comments. She taught both classes, and lectured the next day, without any incident.

Read more about Jennifer's victory at Marshall


University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center: Student Investigated and Punished for Social Media Posts

University of Tennessee Health Science Center Student Kimberly Diei
University of Tennessee Health Sciences student Kimberly Diei

Kimberly Diei has twice been investigated by her program’s Professional Conduct Committee because of allegations that her personal social media activity was too “crude,” “vulgar,” and “sexual.”

Read more about FIRE's advocacy for Kimberly


RECENTLY RESOLVED CASES

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