As Torch folks know, all week we have been counting down the top five reasons you should make a donation to FIRE this year. If we haven’t convinced you yet, the number one reason should! While some people might consider FIRE’s mission as involving a niche issue that only affects a small portion of the population, the reality is that what we do benefits every single American:
FIRE is working to safeguard the future of our nation’s democracy by preventing an entire generation of students from incorrectly learning not only that they have fewer rights than they actually do, but that silencing "offensive" speech is in fact the good and noble thing to do rather than to respond with more speech.
FIRE has long dealt with cases of administrative censorship and repressive policies, but a scary trend in FIRE cases shows how more and more students are trying to get each other censored—a problem with consequences that reach far beyond the boundaries of college campuses. Currently, academia is educating a generation of America’s future professors, politicians, and parents to believe that controversial opinions should be destroyed rather than debated. Some students have learned that it is okay to silence their peers by stealing newspapers by the hundreds, shouting down speakers with whom they disagree, and stomping on displays that promote views different from their own—and they have even been proud to do so! Such behavior poses a serious threat to the long-term survival of our democracy, as students enter "the real world" with the belief that any ideas that they do not want to hear simply shouldn’t be heard.
Why is this misunderstanding so dangerous? Because if unpopular ideas are silenced, open and robust debate cannot exist and innovation, inventions, and progress are not possible. Some of the world’s greatest breakthroughs have come from people who weren’t afraid to contradict popular opinion or challenge the status quo. In fact, our nation was founded by individuals who did just that. Only in a "marketplace of ideas" that allows all ideas to be heard can progress take place, and it is this free flow of thought that has helped our nation to become as great as it is today. Without a marketplace of ideas, how will we solve the biggest problems of today and tomorrow?
FIRE is working hard to change the campus culture, which has so often taught students to become willing partners in censorship. We are doing our job on campuses by dismantling "free speech zones," reforming repressive policies that chill student and faculty speech, educating students to understand their rights, recruiting advocates for liberty, holding administrators accountable, and making sure that censorship does not go unnoticed. We count more than 3,200 students, faculty, and recent alumni from 1,200 colleges and universities as direct partners in our mission. We open the eyes of millions of individuals every year to the abuses of liberty taking place on campus, and we strive on a daily basis to correct the miseducation of our nation’s youth.
So, yes, while we are a watchdog group that counters injustices on campus as they occur, we are much more than that. We are working to protect the very future of our democracy. If we can successfully change the current campus culture (something I think we can do with enough resources), FIRE’s services should no longer be needed. While we love our jobs, we would gladly give them up if we were to succeed in persuading others to hold the deep appreciation for freedom that our democracy needs.