Dave Barry, Award-Winning Humorist, Speaks Out on College Censorship in New FIRE Video

July 30, 2009

Dave Barry, Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist and author of more than 30 books, is no stranger to critics trying to censor his writing. The nationally syndicated humorist has written some of our nation’s funniest columnsand with the First Amendment on his side, he’s been winning the battle for free speech for over 25 years. Today, we are releasing a new video that features Barry discussing why freedom of expression is important to him and how today’s politically correct college campuses are creating a culture of censorship that stifles humor writing and the opinions of millions of students across the country.

Barry, a great champion of free speech and the rights of satirists and journalists everywhere, found one of his jokes at the center of a FIRE case in 2006, when a Ph.D. student at Marquette University faced censorship for posting a couple of lines from one of Barry’s columns on his office door. The quote read, “As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government.” The administration deemed these lines “patently offensive”a legal term of art usually used to describe hardcore pornography. As Barry describes in the video, these days a claim of “offense” is often enough to justify censoring students, and that is precisely what happened at Marquette. Despite repeated letters from FIRE and public pressure from Barry himself, the national media, and angry alumni, Marquette failed to acknowledge any wrongdoing.

FIRE’s video with Dave Barry offers an entertaining look at what is considered “free speech” on college campuses today, where the culture of censorship came from, and how it has changed since the 1960s, when Barry was a student.

Barry also offers advice to young writers, telling them to fight back when they feel they have been unfairly silenced:

The whole point of learning about journalism, learning about writing is putting [your opinion] out there and then dealing with the reaction you get from it. … There shouldn’t be a referee declaring what’s acceptable speech and what’s not.

FIRE also is honored that Dave Barry will serve as an honorary Vice Chairman for our ten-year anniversary celebration in New York City on October 22.

This latest video joins the growing collection of documentaries produced by FIRE that capture the all-too-familiar problem of censorship on campus. At Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), a student-employee was found guilty of racial harassment for silently reading the book Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan during his work breaks. At Valdosta State University, a student was expelled for posting a collage on his Facebook profile to peacefully protest the construction of multi-million-dollar parking garages on campus. And at the University of Delaware, the Office of Residence Life employed mandatory dormitory activities to coerce students to change their thoughts, habits, attitudes, values, and beliefs to conform to a highly specified ideological agenda.

You can watch these videos and more at FIRE’s multimedia page. Thanks again to Dave Barry for being one of FIRE’s stars!

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Schools:  Marquette University

Cases:  Marquette University: Political Quote Banned from Office Door