FIRE Celebrates 15 Years of Defending Rights on Campus

NEW YORK, October 23, 2014—Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is joining civil liberties luminaries and supporters at the Mandarin Oriental to mark 15 years of defending student and faculty rights on America’s college and university campuses. Harvard University professor and bestselling author Steven Pinker and legendary First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams will speak at the dinner to celebrate FIRE’s 297 victories for liberty (and counting) at 206 colleges and universities across our nation, affecting nearly 4.6 million students.

FIRE has released a short film highlighting our work over the past 15 years. The film serves as a tribute to the many students and faculty members who have stood up for their rights with help from FIRE, and provides a moving introduction to FIRE’s work. The film will be shown publicly for the first time at tonight’s dinner.

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Selected students from FIRE’s 15 years of work will also be speaking at the event. They include Hayden Barnes, who sued Valdosta State University after his environmental advocacy led to his wrongful expulsion, winning a landmark judgment against the university’s former president. Also speaking is student Robert Van Tuinen, who took Modesto Junior College to court after school employees were caught on video barring him from handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution on campus. And guests will hear from University of Hawaii at Hilo student Merritt Burch, who sued her university after it attempted to confine her group’s activities to a tiny, muddy “free speech zone.”

FIRE is celebrating its 15th anniversary amidst a new and unprecedented legal effort—the Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project—which aims to end the scourge of unconstitutional speech codes by bringing challenge after challenge in every federal circuit. After each victory by ruling or settlement, FIRE will target another university in the same circuit—sending the message that unless public colleges obey the law, they will be sued. Just this week, Western Michigan University became the latest institution to face a Stand Up For Speech lawsuit over its unconstitutional policies. Through this strategy, FIRE hopes to change the incentive structure on campus from one that favors censorship to one that favors liberty.

Lawrence Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury and President Emeritus of Harvard University, chairs the Honorary Host Committee for the event. He joins dozens of other luminaries from across the political spectrum who recognize the vital importance of FIRE’s work defending freedom of speech, religious liberty, due process, and freedom of conscience on campus.

The dinner also comes on the second anniversary of the publication of FIRE President Greg Lukianoff’s book Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, which examines how colleges’ aversion to meaningful debate and dissent is extending beyond campus and destroying our ability as a nation to discuss important issues.

Lukianoff thanked supporters, saying: “It increasingly comes down to FIRE and its allies and supporters to make sure that future generations understand the profound philosophy behind freedom of speech. We must recognize that freedom of speech is bigger than the First Amendment—it is perhaps the strongest tool for innovation, progress, and peace that civilization has yet devised—and nowhere is it more important than on the college campus.”

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and freedom of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at

Katie Barrows, Communications Coordinator, FIRE: 215-717-3473,