Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

Coordinates: 39°56′53″N 75°09′05″W / 39.9481°N 75.1513°W / 39.9481; -75.1513
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Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression
Founded1999; 25 years ago (1999)
FounderAlan Charles Kors
Harvey Silverglate
Headquarters510 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Coordinates39°56′53″N 75°09′05″W / 39.9481°N 75.1513°W / 39.9481; -75.1513
Greg Lukianoff

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), formerly named the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, is a 501(c)(3)[1] non-profit civil liberties group founded in 1999 with the mission of protecting freedom of speech on college campuses in the United States.[2][3][4] FIRE changed its name in June 2022, when it broadened its focus from colleges to freedom of speech throughout American society.[5]


The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education was co-founded by Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate in 1999, who were FIRE's co-directors until 2004.[2] Kors and Silverglate had co-authored a 1998 book opposing censorship at colleges.[3][6] Silverglate had served on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts.[2] Kors served as FIRE's first president and chairperson. Its first executive director and, later, CEO, was Thor Halvorssen.[7] It was founded to be non-ideological and nonpartisan.[2]

FIRE files lawsuits against colleges and universities that it perceives as curtailing First Amendment rights of students and professors.[3][8][9][10] FIRE has been described as a competitor of the ACLU.[11][2][5]

FIRE has received major funding from groups which primarily support conservative and libertarian causes, including the Bradley Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation, and the Charles Koch Institute.[3][12][13][14] Among its other donors is the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation[15][third-party source needed] and, FIRE president Greg Lukianoff told Politico, the center-left Knight Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies.[16] According to The New York Times journalist Cecilia Capuzzi Simon, "There are other groups that fight for First Amendment rights on campus, but none as vocal—or pushy—as FIRE."[3] The Times also referred to FIRE as a "familiar irritant to college administrators" and said FIRE "bristles at the right-wing tag often applied to them."[3] Cathy Young, a Cato Institute fellow and columnist for The Bulwark, wrote that "FIRE has handled many cases involving speech suppression in the name of progressive values, [but] it is that rare group which actually means it when it claims to be nonpartisan", noting that it had sued on behalf of a professor who was fired because of a negative tweet about Mike Pence.[11]

In June 2022, FIRE announced it was expanding its efforts beyond college campuses, to American society.[12] It was renamed Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, keeping the acronym FIRE. It detailed a $75 million expansion plan over three years to focus on "litigation, public education, and research."[17] Josh Gerstein wrote in Politico that "part of the push may challenge the American Civil Liberties Union's primacy as a defender of free speech." Politico also wrote that FIRE would spend $10 million on "planned national cable and billboard advertising featuring activists on both ends of the political spectrum extolling the virtues of free speech."[5]

In April 2023, FIRE hosted a gala in New York City to celebrate its expanded mission.[18] The event featured keynote remarks by rapper Killer Mike, who told the audience, "Right now, in this country, your freedom of speech is at risk."[19]


FIRE is headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with another office in Washington, D.C.[20][21] As of October 2023, Politico reported that FIRE employs 109 people, including 42 lawyers, and has an annual budget of nearly $37 million.[16]


First Amendment attorney and The Coddling of the American Mind co-author Greg Lukianoff serves as president and CEO.[22][23][24][25] Nico Perrino is executive vice president.[26][27] Ira Glasser, former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), serves on FIRE's Advisory Council.[28] Former ACLU President Nadine Strossen is a Senior Fellow.[29][30]

Policy positions[edit]

Campus speech[edit]

FIRE rates colleges with a red, yellow, or green light based on its assessments of speech restrictions, with a red light meaning that a college policy "both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech."[31][32] FIRE's percentage of colleges with "red light" speech codes increased in 2022 for the first time in 15 years.[33][34] FIRE also gives colleges that do not promise their students free speech rights a "warning" rating.[35][36] In 2007, Jon B. Gould, an author and George Mason University faculty member, criticized FIRE's rating methods, arguing that FIRE had exaggerated the prevalence of unconstitutional speech codes.[37]

In 2020, FIRE partnered with College Pulse and RealClearEducation to release the College Free Speech Rankings, a comparison of student free-speech environments at America's top college campuses.[38][39] The rankings incorporate FIRE's speech code ratings, but also include surveys of students at the ranked schools.[40] In their 2024 rankings, FIRE and College Pulse ranked over 248 schools and surveyed a total of 55,102 students, with Michigan Technological University achieving the top ranking and Harvard University receiving the worst ranking.[41]

FIRE has challenged free speech zones on college campuses, claiming they are unconstitutional restrictions on First Amendment rights.[42] The organization has provided legal support to students contesting free speech zones, while also supporting legislation to eliminate such zones.[43] In his book Speech Out of Doors: Preserving First Amendment Liberties in Public Places (Cambridge University Press, 2008), law professor Timothy Zick wrote "in large part due to [FIRE's] litigation and other advocacy efforts, campus expressive zoning policies have been highlighted, altered, and in a number of cases repealed."[44]

Social media censorship[edit]

FIRE opposes efforts by the government to pressure private social media companies to censor speech on their platforms.[45][46] The group argues that "efforts to 'jawbone' private platforms into granting government officials a role in decisions about content moderation must fail."[47] FIRE chief counsel Robert Corn-Revere called a federal judge's 2023 order blocking the government from pressuring social media companies to censor "a win for the First Amendment."[48]

Challenges to college residence life programs[edit]

In 2007, the organization said that a mandatory program for students living in dormitories at the University of Delaware resembled "thought reform". The school suspended it.[49]

Student press[edit]

At the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh, FIRE opposed university practices that required student journalists to submit their questions ahead of time or seek permission from the school before interviewing university employees. After FIRE intervened, the university revised its practices to no longer require prior approval before interviews.[50]

Campus security fees[edit]

FIRE has opposed security fees some campuses charge to groups which host controversial speakers. These fees are charged to pay for extra security, which colleges say is necessary due to the likelihood of demonstrations and disruption of events.[51][52]

In March 2009, FIRE challenged a security fee charged to a UC Berkeley group for a speech by Elan Journo, who advocates for the destruction of Palestine.[52] In 2014, FIRE assisted the Kalamazoo Peace Center in its lawsuit against Western Michigan University, after the university said the peace center could only invite social activist and rapper Boots Riley to speak on campus if it paid a security fee.[53] The school settled the lawsuit and agreed to revise its policies.[54] In April 2022, FIRE challenged a security fee charged to Dartmouth College's Republican group for hosting a speech by Andy Ngo.[55]

Due process[edit]

FIRE also targets situations where students and faculty are adjudicated outside the bounds of due process afforded to them by Constitutional law or stated university policy.[56][57][58][59]

FIRE has argued for more rights for students facing sexual assault allegations.[60] In 2011, FIRE opposed the Education Department's "Dear Colleague" letter that urged universities to use a "preponderance of the evidence" standard instead of the criminal justice system's "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard in sexual assault cases.[61][60][62] In 2020, FIRE supported new rules made by the Department of Education during the Trump administration about sexual assault and harassment cases that required colleges to allow the cross-examination of accusers.[63]

Diversity, equity, and inclusion[edit]

FIRE opposes some diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts on college campuses that it says infringe on the free speech and academic freedom rights of students and faculty members.[64] For example, FIRE objects to mandatory "diversity statements" that require faculty to explain their commitment to DEI as part of the hiring and evaluation process.[65] The group argues that such requirements can function as "political litmus tests" that force faculty to accept certain "political or ideological viewpoints for which there is no consensus."[66][67] It has drafted model legislation to abolish the use of diversity statements.[68][69]

In 2023, FIRE released a survey that asked 1,500 college faculty for their views on the use of diversity statements.[70] Half of the respondents said they are "a justifiable requirement for a job at a university." The other half of respondents claimed they are "an ideological litmus test that violates academic freedom," including 90 percent of conservative faculty. Later that year, FIRE filed a lawsuit against the California Community Colleges system, which the organization says forces professors to promote politicized DEI concepts.[71][72][73][74]

Public and private universities[edit]

FIRE has argued that public schools are required to uphold First Amendment protections for their students and faculty members because they are government entities.[75] Although private schools are not bound by the First Amendment, FIRE has said contractual promises they make related to free speech or academic freedom should be upheld.[76]


Public universities[edit]

FIRE joined with a number of other civil liberties groups in the case of Hosty v. Carter, involving suppression of a student newspaper at Governors State University in Illinois,[77] and has been involved in a case at Arizona State University where it condemned the listing of certain sections of a class as open only to Native American students.[78]

FIRE sparred with the University of New Hampshire in 2004 over its treatment of student Timothy Garneau, who was expelled from student housing after he wrote and distributed a flier joking that female classmates could lose the "freshman fifteen" by taking the stairs instead of the elevator. After FIRE publicly criticized the decision, Garneau was reinstated.[79]

In May 2007, Valdosta State University expelled T. Hayden Barnes, who had protested against the construction of two new parking garages on the campus which he saw as encouraging the use of private transportation. University president Ronald Zaccari misconstrued a caption of the proposed garages as the "Ronald Zaccari Memorial Parking Garage" as a threat to himself. With FIRE support, the expulsion was overturned and a court found VSU to have violated Barnes's due process rights.[80]

In 2008, college professor Kerry Laird was ordered by Temple College to remove the quote, "Gott ist tot" (God is Dead), a famous quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, from his office door. FIRE wrote a letter to the Temple administration hinting at the possibility of legal action.[81]

In October 2011, Catawba Valley Community College suspended a student (Marc Bechtol) for complaining on Facebook about a new policy that required students to sign up for a debit card to get their student ID and grant money. CVCC decided that the comments were "disturbing" and a "threat", and used that reasoning to suspend the student. FIRE took the side of the student.[82] Charges were dropped in December 2011.[83]

In 2012, FIRE filed a lawsuit against Iowa State University (ISU) after ISU prevented the university's chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws from designing T-shirts featuring the school's mascot.[84][85] The lawsuit eventually ended with nearly $1 million in damages and fees awarded.[86]

In 2014, FIRE sued Chicago State University (CSU) for trying to shut down a faculty blog critical of CSU's former administration.[87][88] The school eventually agreed to rewrite its speech policies, paying $650,000 to settle the lawsuit.[89]

In 2021, FIRE filed a First Amendment lawsuit on behalf of an Eastern Virginia Medical School student who said his free speech rights were violated when the school denied recognition to a club that he was trying to establish because it supported universal health care.[90] In March 2022, the school settled the lawsuit.[91] Later that year, the organization helped University of Washington professor Stuart Reges take action against the school after it recommended that he include a Native American "land acknowledgment" on his course syllabus.[92][93] FIRE is also representing conservative students at California-based Clovis Community College, where school administrators reportedly removed the students' anti-communism flyers from campus bulletin boards.[94]

In 2021, in response to the board of trustees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill declining to give Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure, FIRE released a statement saying "if it is accurate that this refusal was the result of viewpoint discrimination against Hannah-Jones, particularly based on political opposition to her appointment, this decision has disturbing implications for academic freedom."[95]

In September 2022, FIRE announced a lawsuit challenging Florida's Stop WOKE Act, arguing that the bill unconstitutionally suppresses certain discussions of race and sex on college campuses.[96][97] That November, a federal judge considering lawsuits by FIRE and the ACLU stopped enforcement of the higher education portions of the law, calling them "positively dystopian" and ruling that the law violates the rights of university students and faculty members.[98][99] New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait wrote that, while FIRE "has stood up against speech restriction from both the right and the left," it was notable that "the most effective opponent of left-wing political correctness" had led the effort against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' "signature campus law."[100]

In March 2023, FIRE filed a lawsuit challenging a ban on student drag shows at West Texas A&M University, which the group called an "unlawful attempt to censor students."[101] In a letter to the campus community, university president Walter Wendler called drag shows "divisive" and "demeaning" to women, despite acknowledging that the law appeared to require him to allow such shows.[102][103]

Private universities[edit]

FIRE has criticized Columbia University's sexual misconduct policy;[104] according to FIRE, the policy "lack[ed] even the most minimal safeguards and fundamental principles of fairness".[105] The criticism led to the resignation of Charlene Allen, Columbia's program coordinator for the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Education, whose policies were at the center of the controversy.[106]

FIRE criticized Brandeis University for disciplining politics professor Donald Hindley. The school's provost informed Hindley in October 2007 that comments he made in his Latin American politics class violated the school's anti-harassment policy. Hindley was alleged to have mentioned the slur "wetback" in class during a discussion about racism toward Mexican-American immigrants. Krauss placed a monitor in Hindley's class and ordered him to attend racial sensitivity training.[107]

In 2015, FIRE defended Erika Christakis, associate master of Yale University's Silliman College, after she questioned the school's Intercultural Affairs Council for highlighting the cultural implications of Halloween costumes.[108][109]

In 2021, FIRE advocated on behalf of Stanford University student Nicholas Wallace, who satirized the Federalist Society and Republican political figures in an email to his peers.[110] Wallace's diploma was initially put on hold for the email, prompting FIRE to contact Stanford in his defense.[111] The school's investigation was ultimately dropped and Wallace was allowed to graduate.[112]

In 2022, FIRE released a series of advertisements in Boston, Massachusetts, accusing Emerson College of censoring free speech on campus.[113] The ad campaign came in response to Emerson investigating and suspending the campus chapter of Turning Point USA, which distributed stickers featuring a hammer and sickle with the caption "China Kinda Sus" (slang for "suspicious").[114][115] Emerson claimed the stickers represented "anti-China hate", while FIRE blamed the school for violating "freedom of expression".[116]

FIRE objected to Hamline University's 2022 decision to punish adjunct professor Erika López Prater after she showed students in her art history course a painting of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.[117] FIRE argued this violated the professor's academic freedom rights, filing a complaint with the university's accreditor.[118][119]


In August 2022, FIRE defended the nonprofit group NeuroClastic, which had been threatened with a defamation lawsuit by the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center after criticizing the center's use of electro-shock devices.[120] That month, FIRE challenged the New York State Senate's practice of blocking critics on Twitter, representing a resident who had criticized gun control legislation.[121]

FIRE filed a lawsuit in December 2022 on behalf of First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh and online platforms Rumble and Locals, challenging a New York state law that requires social networks to police hate speech on their platforms.[122] Writing in The Wall Street Journal after the lawsuit was filed, Volokh claimed, "I don't want to moderate such content and I don't endorse the state's definition of hate speech."[123] In February 2023, a federal judge blocked the law, writing that it "chills the constitutionally protected speech of social media users, without articulating a compelling governmental interest or ensuring that the law is narrowly tailored to that goal."[124][125]

In 2022, FIRE filed a lawsuit against the city of Eastpointe, Michigan and its mayor, Monique Owens.[126] The lawsuit alleged that Owens unconstitutionally shut down residents' criticism of her during the public comment period of city council meetings.[126] That December, a federal judge issued an injunction that prevented Owens from interrupting or shutting down speakers at council meetings.[127]

Media, advertising, and sponsorships[edit]

Since 2011, FIRE has published a list of the "worst colleges for free speech".[128]

Since 2016, FIRE has produced "So to Speak: The Free Speech Podcast", hosted by Perrino.[129][130][131] FIRE partnered with Korchula Productions and the DKT Liberty Project to produce Can We Take a Joke?, a documentary released in 2016 about comedy and speech.[132][133][134]

In 2017, FIRE was listed as one of the sponsors of the conservative campus group Turning Point USA's Student Action Summit, according to tax records.[135]

In 2020, FIRE released Mighty Ira, a documentary about Ira Glasser, focusing on his advocacy for free speech and civil rights.[136][137] The Hollywood Reporter described it as "a warm portrait that poses ever-urgent questions."[138] The Times of Israel said the documentary "initiates a war between your head and your gut."[139]

In 2022, FIRE produced an advertisement featuring National Basketball Association (NBA) player Enes Kanter Freedom for the 2022 Winter Olympics in China, supporting freedom of speech.[140] Freedom also shared his personal story about censorship in his home country of Turkey.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


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