Do I have a case?
As a rule of thumb, if you’re thinking you might have a problem or a case, but you’re not sure, it’s better to get in contact with FIRE early. Even if we are unable to directly assist you at the time, we may be able to point you to useful resources. The issues we consider can be sometimes be nuanced, and every situation where rights are threatened is unique. Submitting a case to us allows us to see whether we can help you. If we can, we will work with you on the best path forward.
How do I submit a case, and what should I provide?
We accept case submissions only through our online form. We do not accept case submissions by phone or email.
Please provide us with a short narrative statement — giving a basic timeline of what was said, who said it, and when it happened — and any pertinent documents, such as emails, letters, or notices.
What kinds of cases does FIRE work on?
Our mission is limited to higher education in the United States. FIRE defends the rights of students and faculty members at public and private colleges and universities in the United States. We will consider cases involving freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience. However, FIRE does not take cases from university staff members who lack faculty or student status, cases from elementary or high-school students, cases that are primarily grade disputes, or cases that arise at schools outside the United States.
What about private colleges? Does the First Amendment apply?
We defend rights at private institutions, too. While private institutions are not obliged to follow the First Amendment, many advertise or promise freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and other rights. Those promises should be honored, and FIRE aims to make sure they are.
What kind of help does FIRE provide? What can you do to help me?
Our approach may involve some combination of private or public advocacy, such as writing letters to the institution, issuing press releases, sharing your story with media outlets, or, in some cases, connecting you with legal counsel. We understand that you may be undergoing a stressful period or may be worried about whether — or even how — to defend your rights. Each situation requires a unique approach, and we’ll work with you to figure out the approach with which you’re comfortable. But in order to defend your rights — and the rights of others who may not recognize threats to their rights or be able to stand up for themselves — you have to be willing to stand up for yourself.
Will this cost me anything?
No. FIRE is a charitable, non-profit organization and does not charge for any of its services.
What about my privacy?
FIRE takes your privacy seriously. We will not disclose information concerning your case submission or contact your institution without your permission or a court order.
What happens if my university or college finds out?
It’s highly unlikely that your university or college will retaliate against you for standing up for your rights. In many cases, particularly at public institutions, doing so may even be unlawful. If an institution is violating your rights, it’s more likely to be careful when it becomes apparent that third parties are aware of what it’s doing.
Should I contact you from my .edu email address?
While it’s unlikely that your institution is monitoring your email, it may be a good idea to use an independent email service to communicate with us.
But I’m a [liberal, conservative, leftist, anarchist, socialist, animal rights activist, artist, nihilist, etc.]. Will you still defend me?
FIRE is proudly non-partisan. We defend Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Democratic Socialists, and those affiliated with no party at all; Muslims, Jews, Christians, and atheists; environmental activists, animal rights activists, pro-choice activists, anti-rape activists, anti-war activists, and LGBT activists; free market advocates, pro-life activists, anti-immigration activists, and anti-affirmative action activists; student reporters, student government members, adjunct faculty, and tenured professors; and many, many more. FIRE even stands ready to protect the expressive rights of those who call for censorship, though we disagree with those advocates’ goals. Bottom line: If your rights have been violated, we will defend you.
I’m a non-U.S. citizen enrolled or teaching at an American campus. Can you still help me?
Yes. The rights afforded to students and faculty in the United States are not dependent on nationality, citizenship, or residency.
How long will it take for FIRE to review my submission?
We review every case submission within three business days. If this is an urgent matter which requires a faster response, please note the nature of the urgency in your case submission and we will attempt to review your case within that time frame, if possible. FIRE is a non-profit organization with limited resources, and review of a submission does not guarantee that we will be able to take your case or otherwise provide assistance. If you are in need of immediate assistance, you should consider retaining a local attorney.
Will you be my lawyers?
Submitting a case to us does not itself establish an attorney-client relationship. FIRE will not represent you as your lawyers in the absence of a retainer agreement, which we only pursue in a very narrow range of cases.
I already have a lawyer. Can FIRE still help?
Please have your lawyer contact us directly. We can speak with them about how we might be able to help. We want to respect your relationship with your lawyer, and coordinating with them is the most effective way that we can help.
I am a lawyer. Can FIRE help my client?
Maybe! Please get in touch with us by filling out a case submission form. We may be able to help provide advice on strategy, consider the case for amicus participation, write a letter to the institution in support of your client, or help draw public attention to the matter. Attorneys interested in helping to defend student and faculty rights should join FIRE’s Legal Network.
I’m not the person whose rights are threatened. Should I still submit a case?
We’re always on the lookout for rights violations, and you may be aware of a situation that we haven’t seen yet. If you know of censorship or a threat to a student or faculty member’s rights, please contact us even if you’re not directly involved. We’ll see if we can make contact with the people who are involved — and if you know how to contact them, consider encouraging them to contact us!
Why didn’t you take my case?
FIRE is a non-profit organization with limited resources and a narrow mission. We can’t help in every case. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have a case, and you may consider retaining a lawyer to advise you of your rights.
Why can’t I submit over the phone?
FIRE receives a tremendous number of requests for assistance each year. In order to ensure that all information is accurately preserved, and can be properly tracked through the intake process, all submissions must be made through our website. This is to your benefit. Once our staff has had the opportunity to review your written submission, any subsequent correspondence can focus more on the immediate task of assisting you, rather than basic fact-gathering.
I’m not in trouble, but my institution’s policies threaten student and faculty rights. I want to change them. Can FIRE help?
If you’re interested in FIRE’s help in changing your institution’s policies — as opposed to seeking assistance with a specific application of those policies — we can help. Contact FIRE’s Policy Reform team using this form.
I have a question that isn’t answered here.
All the more reason to get in touch with us.