FIRE’s Programs

By September 16, 2013

Speech Code Litigation Project

FIRE supports precedent-setting litigation in defense of the First Amendment as an integral part of our effort to end the scourge of unconstitutional speech codes on public campuses and to ensure truth-in-advertising and informed consent on private campuses. Cooperating attorneys from FIRE’s Legal Network have secured victories at Shippensburg University, Texas Tech University, Citrus College, the State University of New York College at BrockportSan Francisco State University, and University of Cincinnati.

Free Speech on Campus Project

FIRE believes it is essential that our nation’s future leaders be educated as members of a free society, learning to debate and to resolve differences peacefully, without resorting to administrative coercion. Unfortunately, too many colleges and universities have attempted to outlaw speech and expression that do not conform to various "politically correct" campus orthodoxies. Through this project, FIRE defends and enhances freedom of expression at America’s institutions of higher education. Issues covered by this project include the elimination of "free speech zones," which limit where students can express controversial views on campus, in favor of opening the entire campus to free speech. The project also works to defend freedom of the press and academic freedom and to oppose the censorship of dissenting viewpoints.

Students and faculty who have been punished for their speech may submit cases through FIRE’s website. FIRE assesses these cases for accuracy and context in order to determine how best to assist the individual student, faculty member, or student group. FIRE then writes letters to college administrators on behalf of the victim, explaining why a policy, investigation, or punishment is unjust. If the administrators do not respond, FIRE uses its extensive Media Network to publicize the story, recognizing that colleges and universities seldom can justify in public the actions they have taken in private. When necessary, FIRE links individuals to appropriate legal aid through its Legal Network, providing individuals and their attorneys with legal memoranda and other assistance.

Read more about the issue of free speech.

Religious Liberty on Campus Project

The purpose of this project is to come to the aid of parties who are helpless in the face of anti-religious double standards. The campus remains one of the only places in America where the rights of people of faith—in particular, their right to associate freely around matters of conscience and belief—are routinely denied, and where students are punished for exercising these foundational freedoms. Most students lack the means to expose such denials as fundamentally unjust or unlawful.

Students and faculty suffering infringements on their religious freedom may submit cases through FIRE’s website. FIRE accesses these cases for accuracy and context in order to determine how best to assist the individual student, faculty member, or student group. FIRE then writes letters to college administrators on behalf of the victim, explaining why a policy, investigation, or punishment is unjust. If the administrators fail to protect the victims’ rights, FIRE uses its extensive Media Network to publicize the story, recognizing that colleges and universities seldom can justify in public the actions they have taken in private. When necessary, FIRE links individuals to appropriate legal aid through its Legal Network, providing individuals and their attorneys with legal memoranda and other assistance.

Read more about the issue of religious liberty.

Freedom of Conscience on Campus Project

This project helps students and faculty fight infringements upon their rights of conscience. Individuals have the right to define or not to define themselves by their race, sex, ethnicity, religion, moral code, politics, or any other chosen quality. It is every individual’s right to join, or not to join, others who have made the same voluntary choices. It is no one’s right, however, to impose those intimate and private choices upon a free man or woman.

This project carefully monitors the issue of thought reform on campus. College orientation sessions have become vehicles for ideological indoctrination as freshmen are herded into mandatory diversity seminars, put through embarrassing orientation exercises, and forced to submit to administrative dogma on matters of private conscience. Faculty are increasingly assessed by vague, subjective criteria such as "commitment to diversity." Through this project, FIRE demonstrates the danger of imposing official viewpoints and the importance of the individual’s right to decline attending such programs.

Students and faculty whose rights of conscience have been violated may submit cases through FIRE’s website. FIRE assess these cases for accuracy and context in order to determine how best to assist the individual student, faculty member, or student group. FIRE then writes letters to college administrators on behalf of the victim, explaining why a policy, investigation, or punishment is unjust. If the administrators fail to protect the victim’s rights, FIRE uses its extensive Media Network to publicize the story, recognizing that colleges and universities seldom can justify in public the actions they have taken in private. When necessary, FIRE links individuals to appropriate legal aid through its Legal Network, providing individuals and their attorneys with legal memoranda and other assistance.

Read more about the issue of freedom of conscience.

Due Process and Legal Equality on Campus Project

This project defends students and faculty whose rights of due process or legal equality have been violated. Although students have the same right to decency and fundamental fairness on a college campus as they do elsewhere, meaningful due process is absent from most student judicial proceedings. Cases that America’s courts would not even pursue are routinely prosecuted in campus courts, without regard for rules of evidence or fair procedure.

Moreover, all students and faculty on most campuses are also entitled to the same legal rights regardless of their social status, religion, or political opinions. On many campuses today, however, disparate funding of student organizations thwarts this notion of free expression and equality. By denying funding and other campus resources to organizations whose viewpoints are controversial or currently out of fashion, administrators create a campus that lacks meaningful, substantive debate and that unfairly restricts speech.

Students and faculty whose rights of due process or legal equality have been violated may submit cases through FIRE’s website. FIRE assess these cases for accuracy and context in order to determine how best to assist the individual student or student group. FIRE then writes letters to college administrators on behalf of the victim, explaining why a policy, investigation, or punishment is unjust. If the administrators fail to protect the victim’s rights, FIRE uses its extensive Media Network to publicize the story, recognizing that colleges and universities seldom can justify in public the actions they have taken in private. When necessary, FIRE links individuals to appropriate legal aid through its Legal Network, providing individuals and their attorneys with legal memoranda and other assistance.

Read more about the issues of due process and legal equality.

Freedom of Association on Campus Project

Through this project, FIRE advocates for the right of student organizations to define their identities according to their beliefs and to form groups and associations as they choose. FIRE’s immediate concern is to aid parties whose rights are subjugated to the ideological impulses of the campus administration. For example, religious groups are often told that maintaining their religious beliefs constitutes unlawful "discrimination." In other cases, student groups are saddled with invasive and onerous requirements that make a mockery of freedom of association. The core value of freedom of association needs efficacious defense at our colleges and universities, which serve as the social models in which tomorrow’s leaders learn the values that they carry with them into the larger society.

Student organizations may submit cases through FIRE’s website. FIRE assesses these cases for accuracy and context in order to determine how best to assist the student group. FIRE then writes letters to college administrators on behalf of the victims, explaining why a policy, investigation, or punishment is unjust. If the administrators fail to protect the victims’ rights, FIRE uses its extensive Media Network to publicize the story, recognizing that colleges and universities seldom can justify in public the actions they have taken in private. When necessary, FIRE links students to appropriate legal aid through its Legal Network, providing student groups and their attorneys with legal memoranda and other assistance.

Read more about the issues of freedom of association on campus.

Public Awareness Project

FIRE’s main website is an educational resource for students, faculty, parents, administrators, journalists, and lawyers. The site informs visitors of the current state of liberty on American campuses through school ratings, archived cases, news reports, publications, event listings, and more. It also offers more interactive features, such as a confidential venue for the submission of cases and direct links to FIRE’s Guides to Student Rights on Campus Project and Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource (which contains comprehensive information on the state of liberty on hundreds of America’s campuses). In 2005, FIRE launched its own weblog (or "blog"), The Torch, which is a forum for FIRE staff to provide updated news and to comment on administrative abuse, campus trends, misunderstandings of the law, and other issues.

In addition to the website, the Public Awareness Project employs a variety of other methods to educate the public about the threats to individual rights on our nation’s campuses and demonstrate the ways to preserve those rights. FIRE’s leadership appears frequently on national and local television and radio programs. FIRE also places advertisements about student rights in campus publications and conducts public information campaigns on college campuses. Additionally, FIRE uses its Media Network to expose abuses to the press and uses its website and e-mail network to inform interested parties about current and ongoing cases. About twice a month, FIRE sends out its electronic newsletter, the FIRE Update, to over 8,000 subscribers.

In 2008, FIRE launched its Multimedia Project, beginning with a video directed and produced by Indoctrinate U director Evan Coyne Maloney and Andrew Marcus. FIRE’s Multimedia Project includes regular installments of original video content, a podcasting program called FIREside Chats, and a video contest for college students.

Supporters also can stay up to date with news and campus happenings by reading FIRE’s publications, including The FIRE Quarterly, a hardcopy newsletter mailed out four times a year, the Annual Report, and FIRE’s newest publication, The Lantern: The Journal of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which includes scholarly articles written by FIRE staff. The online edition is available now, and print copies of the first full issue will be available in 2009.

Campus Freedom Network

Established in 2006, the Campus Freedom Network (CFN) is an essential component of the fight to protect individual rights at institutions of higher learning across the country. A loosely knit coalition of faculty members and students dedicated to advancing individual liberties on their campuses, the CFN has quickly become integral to FIRE’s work. The CFN advances FIRE’s mission by providing resources and educational opportunities to students and faculty engaged in advancing individual rights on campus. The goal is to encourage energetic students and faculty members to pressure their administrations to change illiberal and unconstitutional policies, or to take action in particular cases. To facilitate this activity, the CFN arranges speeches by FIRE speakers, rewards active students through an incentive program, organizes an annual FIRE summer conference, and bolsters FIRE’s programs with grassroots support. By organizing students and faculty, the CFN strives to change the culture of censorship on college campuses from the inside.

Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource

FIRE’s Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource is a section of FIRE’s website containing comprehensive information on the state of liberty on America’s campuses. Visitors to FIRE’s Spotlight can click on the college or university of their choice and instantly see a more complete picture of that campus’ restrictions on liberty—everything from speech codes and actual cases of repression to media coverage and entries from FIRE’s weblog, The Torch.

FIRE’s Spotlight currently contains information on over 400 colleges and universities. No other website or organization has ever even attempted to present such a wealth of information on the state of liberty on our nation’s campuses. The site is essentially one-stop shopping for students, parents, professors, and journalists who want to research a college or university’s repressive policies and practices.

Each school’s page in FIRE’s Spotlight collects all the information on FIRE’s website associated with that school—including FIRE cases and the documents associated with them. Each school’s page also displays FIRE’s "red light," "yellow light," or "green light" speech code rating and links to the latest campus policies restricting individual rights, as well as that campus’ advertised commitments to freedom of expression. In this way, the database—the result of thousands of hours of research—exposes repressive policies on a given campus and links those policies to actual instances of campus censorship.