FIRE Bursts On Out In NYC — Free Speech Celebration Draws Committed Crowd

October 31, 2014

By Ronald K.L. Collins at Concurring Opinions

EXPLOSIVE. That is as good as any a word to describe the high energy level at the 15th Anniversary dinner ofFIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), the group founded by Harvey Silvergate and  Alan Charles Kors in 1999. People were yelling “FIRE” in the crowded hall all evening long.

Some 280 people came together on Thursday evening last week at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in NYC. They gathered to show their enthusiastic support for this non-partisan free speech group. Contrary to the mood of our times, liberals, conservatives and libertarians joined together in common cause to endorse FIRE’s campaign to contest unconstitutional campus speech codes.

Guests included Radley BalkoJoan BertinPaul BloomRobert Corn-RevereAlan Dershowitz,Norman DorsenDonald DownsJoel GoraJonathan HaidtWendy KaminerRoger KimballMichael McConnellKirsten Powers, Lenore SkenazyNadine StrossenMatt Welch, andKaren Gantz Zahler, among others.

Students speak out

Aided by film clips on two big screens (see video here), four student activists who challenged campus speech codes spoke of their experiences. They were: Merritt BurchMorgan FreemanChris Lee, andRobert Van Tuinen.

Two Speakers: A First Amendment Lawyer & a Cognitive Scientist 

There were two speeches, which further fired up the audience. The first speech was by the noted First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams. His remarks were entitled “Free Speech is in Trouble on Campus.” Here is an excerpt:

[O]nly FIRE … would think of and then respond to the explosion of unconstitutional speech codes that limit student and faculty speech as it did just last month by threatening over 300 colleges with litigation challenging such rules. And only FIRE would do the detailed work of reading each speech code so it could announce that 58% of public colleges and universities are, right now, acting unconstitutionally in limiting sometimes discomforting but First Amendment protected speech, on campus, and then follow that up by actually commencing lawsuits in this area. .  . . FIRE, from the day it was created, has understood this and sought to expose it and deal with it. We are in the midst of an epidemic and FIRE is providing an antidote. 

→ Steven Pinker (the  noted experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist, and popular science author and Harvard professor) spoke after Abrams.  His remarks were titled “Three Reasons to Affirm Free Speech.” Here is an excerpt from his remarks:

Free speech is the only way to acquire knowledge about the world. Perhaps the greatest discovery in human history—one that is logically prior to every other discovery—is that all of our traditional sources of belief are in fact generators of error and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge. These include faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, augury, prophesy, intuition, clairvoyance, conventional wisdom, and the warm glow of subjective certainty.

Greg Lukianoff — The FIRE Man

Meanwhile, Greg Lukianoff and his colleagues at FIRE have cases pending against the following six colleges:He is like no other — Lukianoff, FIRE’s president, is a man full of ideas, energy, and the smarts to make it all work. Authorpamphleteeractivist, and Stanford Law graduate, this 40-year-old who grew up in Danbury, CT is changing the world around him by bringing the First Amendment to the doorstep of college bureaucrats bent on squelching freedom of speech and conscience. And Lukianoff and FIRE are winning; they have prevailed (either by a court victory or a settlement) in every one of the challenges they have brought — and they are busily preparing many more. Beyond the courtroom, Lukianoff regularly takes his free-speech message to the pubic, either by testifing before Congress or appearing on the O’Reilly Factor, the CBS Evening News, or by publishing an op-ed in this or that newspaper. Regardless of one’s ideological stripes, he is always prepared to make a strong case for the First Amendment.

  1. University of Hawaii at Hilo
  2. Western Michigan University
  3. Chicago State University
  4. Citrus College
  5. Iowa State University, and
  6. Ohio University

→  Full disclosure: I attended as a guest of the Davis Wright Tremaine law firm, which works with FIRE in litigating campus speech code cases.