ON-Lion Letter

In early July, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in Philadelphia coordinated the filing of lawsuits against Ohio University, Chicago State University, Iowa State University, and Citrus College in California.  The filings launch FIRE’s new Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project, a national effort to eliminate unconstitutional speech codes through targeted First Amendment lawsuits. 

FIRE has retained preeminent First Amendment attorney Robert Corn-Revere of the national law firm Davis Wright Tremaine as counsel for students and faculty members participating in the Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project.

“Unconstitutional campus speech codes have been a national scandal for decades.  But today, 25 years after the first of the modern generation of speech codes was defeated in court, 58% of public campuses still hold onto shockingly illiberal codes,” according to FIRE president Greg Lukianoff.

“For 15 years, FIRE has fought for free speech on campus using public awareness as our main weapon, but more is needed," Lukianoff continued.  "Today, we announce the launch of the Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project, an expansive new campaign to eliminate speech codes nationwide.  We have already coordinated two lawsuits in the past nine months, and this morning we brought four more.  The lawsuits will continue until campuses understand that time is finally up for unconstitutional speech codes in academia.”

By imposing a real cost for violating First Amendment rights, the Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project intends to reset the incentives that currently push colleges towards censoring student and faculty speech.  Lawsuits will be filed against public colleges maintaining unconstitutional speech codes in each federal circuit.  After each victory by ruling or settlement, FIRE will target another school in the same circuit -- sending a message that unless public colleges obey the law, they will be sued.

The four new lawsuits challenge speech codes at public institutions on behalf of students, student groups, and faculty members.  At Citrus College, for instance, student Vincenzo Sinapi-Riddle is challenging three unconstitutional policies, including a free speech zone that the school already agreed to abolish after a 2003 lawsuit.  Not only did Citrus College reinstitute its “Free Speech Area,” comprising a miniscule 1.37% of campus, but it also requires student organizations to undergo a two-week approval process for any expressive activity.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee substantially supports FIRE.

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