FIRE unveils challenge to ACLU on free speech activism

, Spencer Irvine, Leave a comment

Move aside, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), there is a new free speech and First Amendment defender in town: the organization formerly known as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is rebranding as the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

FIRE has spent several decades fighting to protect the freedom of speech and expression on college campuses across the U.S. and left non-campus free speech issues to the likes of the ACLU and other advocacy groups of all political persuasions.

That is no longer the case with FIRE’s rebrand because freedom of speech and expression is under attack on places not found on college campuses. FIRE’s president, Greg Lukianoff, told Politico, “To say the least, we have not solved the campus free-speech problem, but we started to realize if we wanted to save free speech on campus we have to start earlier and we have to do things not on campus.”

Lukianoff noted, “There’s a very strong belief in not just the First Amendment, but a culture of freedom of speech that — black or white, liberal or conservative — that most Americans think you should be entitled to your own opinion and not have to lose your job over that.” He added, “The voices that think of free speech as a dirty word on campus or on Twitter are actually a pretty small minority.”

FIRE raised, according to Lukianoff, $28.5 million for a three-year, $75 million campaign to solidify support for the First Amendment and its values through public education, opinion research and litigation. It also included $10 million in advertising on national cable stations and billboards.

The pivot could be groundbreaking in free speech advocacy because the ACLU used to the sole dominant player in the free speech litigation space for decades. However, since the departure of former ACLU president Nadine Strossen, ACLU has gotten deeply involved in partisan, left-wing fights. Strossen and former ACLU executive director, Ira Glassen, sit on FIRE’s advisory board.

Politico also pointed out the huge fundraising gap between ACLU and FIRE, such as ACLU bringing in about $400 million per year in donations while FIRE raised under $16 million in 2021.