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In First Year, FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project Restores the Rights of 150,000 Students (and Counting)

July 1, 2015

WASHINGTON, July 1, 2015—One year ago today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) publicly launched its Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project by sponsoring four lawsuits against colleges and universities maintaining unconstitutional speech policies. At the end of its first year, Stand Up For Speech has sponsored an additional four lawsuits, achieved five victories, secured over $250,000 in damages and attorney fees, and restored free speech rights to over 150,000 students at colleges across the country.

“The students and faculty members who have had the courage to vindicate their First Amendment rights in court have made a tremendous contribution to free expression on college campuses,” said FIRE Associate Director of Litigation Catherine Sevcenko. “FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project has held schools accountable and will continue to do so.”

Stand Up For Speech was launched to target unconstitutional speech codes at America’s public colleges and universities through litigation. In a single calendar year, FIRE has sponsored eight lawsuits. (Two were filed before Stand Up For Speech’s public launch, making 10 overall.) Of the 10 lawsuits filed thus far, five have been settled with comprehensive policy reforms. Two institutions have suspended their policies during settlement talks. The most recent suit was filed in May and the college has not yet responded.

Only two universities so far have chosen to fight the lawsuits. Iowa State University (ISU) is defending its decision to censor a student organization’s T-shirts featuring both a marijuana leaf and ISU’s name. Chicago State University (CSU) is defending its censorship of a faculty blog. Both universities made efforts to dismiss the lawsuits, but have so far collectively failed to convince a judge to throw a single issue out of court.

Esteemed First Amendment attorney Robert Corn-Revere and his colleagues Ronald London and Lisa Zycherman of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine have served as counsel for all of the Stand Up For Speech student- and faculty-plaintiffs.

“With our settlement all 10 University of Hawaii system campuses have free speech rights that no longer confine student protests into tiny free speech zones,” said UH Hilo student-plaintiff Merritt Burch. “Though I am overjoyed with the decision that our university has made, I wish that campus censorship across the country would end.”

Stand Up For Speech students and faculty are changing the cost-benefit analysis for administrators who violate First Amendment rights. Since the project started, 28 colleges and universities have reached out to FIRE to voluntarily reform their speech codes, resulting in policy revisions at 13 institutions thus far.

“Litigation has proven to be a much needed step in the road to constitutionalizing speech codes on my campus,” said Cal Poly Pomona student-plaintiff Nicolas Tomas. “Prior to filing my lawsuit, I felt hopeless after exhausting all other means, including pleading with administrators to allow me to use my voice.”

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 thefire.org. More information about the Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project can be found at standupforspeech.com.

CONTACT:

Katie Barrows, Communications Coordinator, FIRE: 215-717-3473; katie@thefire.org

Cases: FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project