Free Speech Group Expanding Beyond College Campuses

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner | Published

FIRE

Free speech rights are fundamental to the American educational process. Students who cannot express themselves are hindered in their ability to learn and expand their understanding of different concepts. A recent poll revealed that the majority of students do not believe they are able to speak freely on college campuses. It is for this very reason that one free speech organization, formerly the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE ),  was formed years ago. Now, the changing landscape of education and post-high school opportunities has led them to rebrand under a more universal cause

FIRE was founded in 1999 and is committed to defending college students’ free speech rights in the United States. Their nonpartisan advocacy is funded through charitable donations as they have focused on protecting and preserving individual fundamental rights that do not stop and start with freedom of speech but also extend to freedom of association, due process, religious freedom, equality, and the sanctity of conscience. FIRE offers legal resources and aid for college students and professors whose individual rights have been violated. They are fiscally responsible and release detailed reports on the progress of their work. 

In the latest annual report, FIRE noted that “far too many are willing to abandon principle in favor of partisanship.” Standing up for individual rights without political bias is at the core of their organization. They have aided college journalists who were hounded by school administration for satirical portrayals and critical reports. They testified in Nevada state government chambers regarding a controversial campus sexual misconduct bill that included measures that would have hindered due process, and had those sections removed and/or revised. College professors have leaned on the support that FIRE offers in order to properly reach students without being pressured by university politics.

FIRE’s website has an entire page devoted to legal cases, funds, press, and more, as well as a link for individuals to submit a case and request help. There have been so many situations where college students and even faculty members have sought out this organization’s aid, that FIRE is expanding beyond just campus assistance. This week they have announced that they are rebranding to serve all Americans in need of aid regarding individual rights violations. They are changing their name to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and have pledged $75 million to this broader cause. 

Individual rights are not just being challenged on college campuses anymore. During the past two years, Americans have witnessed direct attacks on body autonomy, due process, religious freedoms, and more in public buildings, the workplace, and even government settings. Based on the fact that FIRE has aided so many people from varying viewpoints and backgrounds, their dedication to this cause is following current trends. As college enrollment plummets and interest in teaching careers wanes, there is a greater need for FIRE’s services in other various settings.   

FIRE

Now that FIRE will be taking action on behalf of individuals outside of college campuses they are expected to grow even more. To better promote a culture of freedom they are running an advertising campaign that places billboards in 15 major cities across the US. They are hiring more staff members, and even hosting a gala in New York next April. This initiative hosts much promise, and Americans seeking support for their individual rights now have a proven resource beyond college campuses.