As the ACLU Recedes From Its Core Mission, FIRE Expands To Fill the Void
Because of the social media circus surrounding the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard defamation trial, it was easy to overlook one of the principal—yet least likely—actors in the courtroom drama: the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which ghostwrote and placed the 2018 Washington Post op-ed by Heard about surviving domestic abuse that was the basis of the trial.
It’s only the latest example of how the group has in recent years strayed from its original mission of defending speech, no matter how vile. Awash with money after former President Donald Trump was elected, the ACLU transformed into an organization that championed progressive causes, undermining the principled neutrality that helped make it a powerful advocate for the rights of clients ranging from Nazis to socialists.
It questioned the due process rights of college students accused of sexual assault and harassment under Title IX rules. It ran partisan ads against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and for Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, a move that current Executive Director Anthony Romero told The New York Times was a mistake. The ACLU also called for the federal government to forgive $50,000 per borrower in student loans.
As the ACLU recedes from its mission, enter another free speech organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE. Founded in 1999 to combat speech codes on college campuses, FIRE is expanding to go well beyond the university and changing its name to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. The group has raised $29 million toward a three-year “litigation, opinion research and public education campaign aimed at boosting and solidifying support for free-speech values.”
“I think there have been better moments for freedom of speech when it comes to the culture,” says FIRE’s president, Greg Lukianoff. “When it comes to the law, the law is about as good as it’s ever been. But when it comes to the culture, our argument is that it’s gotten a lot worse and that we don’t have to accept it.”
Lukianoff tells Reason that FIRE’s new initiatives have been in the works for years, but gained urgency during the COVID lockdowns. “Pretty much from day one, people have been asking us to take our advocacy off campus to an extent nationally,” he says. “But 2020 was such a scarily bad year for freedom of speech on campus and off, we decided to accelerate that process.” Despite 80 percent of campuses being clo
Article from Reason.com