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Floyd Abrams at FIRE Gala: Free Speech Is in Trouble on Campus

Last night, FIRE celebrated 15 years of defending student and faculty rights on the nation’s college and university campuses at our anniversary gala in New York City. It was a spectacular evening. Guests had the opportunity to meet some of the student-plaintiffs defending their free speech rights as part of our Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project. Attendees could share whatever messages they wanted on a “free speech wall” or through a projector in the dining hall. And we heard from distinguished free speech advocates like Harvard University professor and bestselling author Steven Pinker, as well as legendary First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams.

For those who couldn’t be there, check out Abrams’s remarks from last night over at Minding the Campus. Abrams warned of the disturbing trend on campus that FIRE is fighting against:

This is an extraordinarily perilous moment with respect to free speech on campuses around the nation. It sometimes seems as if students—too many of them, anyway—seem to want to see and hear only views they already hold. And that colleges and universities seem willing to pander to that desire. And to participate in limiting what other may wish to see and hear. On bad days, it reminds of an old New Yorker cartoon in which one member of the Supreme Court whispers to another, “Do you ever have a day when everything seems so unconstitutional?” And even on good ones, it’s sure disturbing.

Abrams thanked FIRE for not only shedding light on the extent of this problem, but on taking big steps to combat speech codes:

[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. From me, and I’m sure from you, thank you.

We could not be more proud to have earned such praise from Abrams, who himself has done so much to protect First Amendment rights.

Click over to Minding the Campus to read the rest of Abrams’s speech.

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