As loyal Torch readers likely know, FIRE and FIRE cases are heavily featured in the new documentary Indoctrinate U. I asked the film’s director, Evan Coyne Maloney, if he’d like to comment on the movie and his experiences with FIRE, and here is what he wrote:
When I came up with the idea to do a documentary about the suppression of speech on college campuses, literally the first phone call I made was to FIRE. That was before I’d ever even picked up a digital video camera, so I really had no business thinking I could make a film. A lot of people seemed to agree.
But I was sufficiently naive to press on, not realizing at the time that people generally don’t think the wisest investment strategy is to hand money to a guy whose sole moviemaking experience consisted of accidentally turning on his cellphone’s built-in camera by dropping it on the floor.
So even before I shot my first minute of footage for the film, and even before there was any budget at all, I was able to spend my workdays doing research. Fortunately, spending all this time cruising the web reading about academia didn’t hurt my career. Being unemployed was convenient that way.
I noticed in my research that every time I read about academic assaults on free thought, whenever I saw students and professors defended against all forms of speech restrictions, one name kept popping up: FIRE.
I called FIRE in early 2003 for one simple reason. If I was serious about doing a film about liberty on campus, I would need to know these people. Period.
So I called. And fortunately, I wasn’t laughed off the phone.
By the time I found funding for the project that ultimately became Indoctrinate U, FIRE had become an invaluable resource for me. During the months of research that preceded going on the road and filming, I eventually realized that most of the cases I decided to cover were FIRE cases.
Part of the reason was just the sheer volume of documentation that FIRE makes available on its website. The evidence for each case is quite detailed, and as someone who spent hours a day reading this stuff, I can add that it is sometimes excruciatingly so. For a filmmaker on a tight budget, that was a big plus. I didn’t have to spend $5,000 a month on a Lexis/Nexis account just to find news articles and case law citations.
In the years since that first phone call, I’ve met a lot of the folks at FIRE. They run the gamut of interests and lifestyles and worldviews, and they defend all comers regardless of whether they personally agree with the speech they’re defending.
They do it because free speech is a value that’s greater than any of our own little collections of opinions.
We as humans are all susceptible to groupthink when we are integrated in communities that are largely uniform. Groups of people in overwhelming agreement with one another tend to act rather poorly when confronted with dissenters.
The primal urge to shut up what we don’t like is not limited to any particular part of the political spectrum. It’s human failing that civilized people have been trying to fight for centuries.
That is precisely why defending speech for its own sake and without any litmus tests–as FIRE does–is so very important. If you silently accede while speech is suppressed just because you don’t sympathize with the speaker, you leave the door open for your own speech to be shut down whenever the next group of censors comes along.
And inevitably, they will.
So we all need to remember: just because you might agree with the people in power today, it doesn’t mean that you will tomorrow.
Therefore, free speech is an important ideal to defend.
Thanks to FIRE for doing the heavy lifting.