With the ACLU officially downgrading free speech in its hierarchy of values, organizations that are committed to promoting individual liberties and freedom of expression are more important than ever. It is central to ISI’s mission to educate students to think critically about things happening in the world around them, which is why it relies on the First Amendment for its very existence.
It is no secret that individual liberties are under attack. Freedoms “of” are being quickly replaced with freedoms “from”: freedom of expression versus freedom from offense, freedom of religion versus freedom from any religion an individual disagrees with, including all religions. Fortunately, there are groups dedicated to preserving individual liberty, either for its own sake or as part of a larger worldview, by acting in three key areas: litigation, legislation, and education.
Here are five groups that any lover of liberty should know. While there are many groups committed to preserving and advancing First Amendment rights in each state, this article will focus on groups that operate on a national level.
The leader in the fight for individual liberties on college campuses, FIRE’s multifaceted approach to combatting free speech restrictions has been extremely successful. The Individual Rights Defense Project allows students and educators to contact FIRE when they feel their fundamental civil liberties have been violated by their college or university. FIRE works to resolve their clients’ issues by negotiating with the administration, focusing public attention on issues, and, if necessary, taking legal action. In addition to their Stand Up for Speech Litigation Project, FIRE maintains a legal network of attorneys willing to take these cases, pro bono.
In addition to standing up for individuals hurt by a university’s free speech policies, FIRE’s Policy Reform Project works to confront these overreaching restrictions before they can harm anyone. Students or faculty at a school can report an abusive free speech code to FIRE, which then dialogues with the administration to change it. They also publish a “Speech Code of the Month,” highlighting a particularly outrageous or overreaching campus statute.
A complete list of programs and resources can be found on FIRE’s website. They are excellent resources for conservative college activists to keep in mind.
The Alliance Defending Freedom was recently in the news as the Christian advocacy group that successfully represented Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Christian baker, before the Supreme Court. The ADF has a long history of securing legal victories in the name of religious liberty and freedom of expression.
The ADF lists three key issues on its website that it specializes in: religious freedom, sanctity of life, and marriage and family. As our culture grows more and more hostile to these ideals, the ADF’s stance to defend them at all costs is a welcome change. The group takes cases related to these issues, as well as others, pro bono, and provides lawyers and law students not employed by them with the training and funding necessary to defend these cases.
The ADF also offers a summer program to undergraduates, Areté Academy, for a week of immersive, faith-based, professional development training in law, public policy, and government.
Different in both mission and method from the two organizations listed above, the Cato Institute is a think tank that promotes a libertarian vision of government, along with all its tenets, one of the most important being the protection of individual liberties. As a think tank, its mission is simple: conduct research on what current policies are being considered and enacted in Congress and analyze what those policies will mean for free speech. It also conducts research on current controversial issues in order to suggest courses of action to be taken proactively.
The Cato Institute also believes, much like ISI, that an educated and informed public is essential to securing any vision of liberty. To that end, it publishes a variety of books, journals, and online articles, along with reports of the research they conduct, like this report on the effect that a proposed “virtual border wall” of surveillance drones would have on the privacy of American citizens. It also hosts a variety of events with lectures and discussions by distinguished speakers, many of which are free and open to the public.
The Center for Individual Freedom lies at the crossroads of litigation, legislation, and education. From their website:
“The Center seeks to focus public, legislative and judicial attention on the rule of law as embodied in the federal and state constitutions. Those fundamental documents both express and safeguard society’s commitment to individual freedom, not only through specific protections such as the Bill of Rights, but also through structural protections that constrain and disperse governmental authority.”
CFIF frequently arranges for legal defense teams to participate in individual rights cases. It also files amicus curiae briefs in court cases where important precedents for individual rights could be set. Additionally, CFIF functions like a think tank, producing reports and policy recommendations in state legislatures and Congress. It also works to gain public attention by providing easily accessible commentary on issues of individual freedom as challenges occur.
These days, to advocate or represent intellectual diversity in academia is to defend individual freedom, no matter how liberal or progressive you are. And given Heterodox Academy’s commitment to quality scholarship, a diversity of perspectives in academia, and constructive disagreement, it’s easily among the most powerful voices of freedom in our universities today. And the list of its supporters is impressive, featuring such intellectuals as Robert P. George and Steven Pinker, among others.
Heterodox Academy started out as a humble blog in 2015. When a swell of interest developed around viewpoint diversity in academia, it grew into a membership model. Every one of its members endorses the following statement: “I believe that university life requires that people with diverse viewpoints and perspectives encounter each other in an environment where they feel free to speak up and challenge each other. I am concerned that many academic ﬁelds and universities currently lack sufﬁcient viewpoint diversity—particularly political diversity. I will support viewpoint diversity in my academic ﬁeld, my university, my department, and my classroom.”
If you’re a professor or a graduate student, consider joining Heterodox Academy, or at the very least give it a follow on Twitter.
There has always been, and always will be, opposition to free speech and the rest of our First Amendment freedoms. But the First Amendment exists because an empire had violated the rights of its colonial subjects, who knew that such transgressions would only continue if those rights were not secured in law. The First Amendment exists for the sake of the freedoms it protects, and the groups listed above exist to protect the Amendment itself—either in theory, by convincing the American public of the necessity of these freedoms, or in practice, by working to combat policies and lawsuits that would chip away at the Amendment’s power. Whether an official partnership exists or not, ISI shares a common goal with all these groups: spreading the principles of the American Tradition for the betterment of society.
Michael Riggins is a sophomore at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland where he serves as the Director of Events for the school's ISI group, The Leuven Society. Michael is also on the editorial board of St. John's student political journal, the Epoch, and student academic journal, ιστορία. You can follow him on Instagram @xx789m.
Image by Samuel Schneider via Unsplash.
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