Can FIRE Be The New ACLU? Hopefully Not, But It Can Be The Old ACLU

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has long been the leading defender of free speech in education. It has now announced that it has changed its name to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. Many are asking if FIRE can be the new ACLU. Hopefully not, but it could be the old ACLU. Many of us have been highly critical of the conversion of the ACLU into a more political and partisan organization under the leadership of executive director, Anthony Romero, former President Susan N. Herman, and current president Deborah Archer. The involvement of the ACLU in the defamatory column of Amber Heard was the final straw for many long-time supporters of the civil liberties group. Unlike the ACLU, FIRE has remained focused on its mission as a leading civil liberties advocacy group. It could well become the old ACLU and fill the void left by the demise of that once revered organization.

As with many other long-standing supporters of the ACLU, I have been critical of the politicization of the ACLU in the last decade. Many of the “Old guard” at the ACLU left the organization as it took on a public agenda, including abandoning its long tradition of supporting the least popular in our society in favor of individual rights. Those critics include former ACLU head Ira Glasser, who questioned whether the ACLU still maintains its defining commitment to free speech values.

This trend was evident in its painfully nuanced approach to “hate speech” after criticism following the Charlottesville protests.  Free speech protection was once the touchstone of the ACLU which was fearless in its unpopular advocacy. It now seems like an area of open retreat for the organization.

Some of us were particularly alarmed when the ACLU filed to oppose due process rights for students at our colleges and universities, particularly in the imposition of a higher and more consistent evidentiary standard.  ACLU filed suit to try to block the increased due process protections mandated by former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in her proposed reforms.  I have long been a critic of the rollback on due process on our campuses and noted the absence of the ACLU in leading this fight. The ACLU sounded much like its historic opponents in decrying the scourge of too much due process as inhibiting greater enforcement.

With this free fall at ACLU has come an endless line of controversies like an ACLU staffer encouraging activists to “break” Sen. Krysten Sinema (D., Ariz.) and another staffer opposing the admission into college of Nicholas Sandmann. At points, it has become a parody of its own self like celebrating the legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by editing her words as offensive.

It is clear that the pursuit of donors and the selection of a more partisan leadership has torn the ACLU way from its original moorings.

FIRE, therefore, could not have picked a more opportune time to announce that it will expand beyond education, stating that a $75 million initiative “will focus on three main areas of programming: litigation, public education, and research.”

Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE, told Politico that FIRE so far has “raised $28.5 million for the planned three-year, $75 million litigation, opinion research and public education campaign aimed at boosting and solidifying support for free-speech values.”

The expansion offers a glimmer of hope for many of us who have been saddened by the decline of the ACLU. FIRE has been a major force for free speech protection on our campuses. If it can replicate that success beyond the walls of academia, it could well fill the vacuum left by the new ACLU.

17 thoughts on “Can FIRE Be The New ACLU? Hopefully Not, But It Can Be The Old ACLU”

  1. The libertarian Institute for Justice has been doing a good job of assisting in people’s rights, but their attention is more on property and freedom of livelihood (e.g. licensing, onerous regulation)

  2. Now that our Injustice Department and FIB are being led by Marxists and Patriots are being held for 18 months and counting without trial or bail hearings for questioning “the most secure election in history” and the ACLU is sitting on their hands, people are starting say ‘what’s wrong with the ACLU these days,’ They are just starting to figure out what we conservatives have know for decades, that it has always only mattered, to the the ACLU, when civil liberties of fellow Marxist travelers are infringed upon.

  3. Thanks for this. I had been considering whether or not to donate to this group. Your post is a plus mark on the yes side

  4. I’ve been a member since the 90’s, when 3 of my fellow students had their grade in a class taught by a feminist docked from A to A- due to their counter argument that modern feminist theory denigrated the accomplishments of women in the past. Fortunately, the Dean of Students for Liberal Arts and Department Chairman changed the grades to A. But my alma mater has the most egregious case on file at FIRE for violation of freedom of speech. (part time student and part time custodian, he was severely sanctioned for reading, “Notre Dame vs. The Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defied the KKK”. A co-worked got upset that the word “Klan” was in the title.

  5. Years ago I always respected the ACLU. Even though some of the cases they advocated for I disagreed with, I thought they were in general, fair. That, however, was long ago and devolved is a good description of what happened to them.

  6. I have been impressed by the non-partisan, focused work of FIRE, viewing their activities over several months. Their membership has no partisan composition that I can discern, and I have been impressed that they have set forward their principles and goals publicly and have been faithful in following them. And I have been impressed by the success that they have thus far achieved.

  7. I received a fund raising letter from the ACLU with a SASE included and I took a Sharpie and wrote in giant black letters ZERO and I mailed it back at their expense. The ACLU is a disgrace and just another left wing partisan group of lunatics that don’t even believe in free speech.

    They went from defending Nazis in Skokie to not even defending 19 year old boys right to due process on campus.

  8. It has now announced that it has changed its name to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

    The ACLU needs a name change befitting what they’ve proven to be their new mission. I suggest the Anti-Civil Liberties Union.

    1. No WordPress account, so I can’t like, but, exactly. My neighbor works for the ACLU, and they can increasingly no longer look themselves in the mirror. They have kids, and it is no longer adding up.

  9. I trust FIRE, they are definitely non-partisan, and I think they can. Orgs like the ACLU have become so polluted and toxic I don’t think there’s any going back. I predict we will see more and more of this going forward – people actually impacted by the left have had it with them, including myself.

  10. Is Antifa going to be camped outside the door of FIRE committing “mostly peaceful demonstrations”
    FIRE could be a breath of fresh air. I’m conservative and there are some things said that I don’t like but I will not and have not ever attempted to block anyone from saying them. You just have to bite your tongue and wait your turn. Having a loud voice also helps. Freedom of speech is not always for shrinking violets.
    I would like to see a column on the 31 guys in Utah arrested for “conspiring to riot” before there was a riot.

  11. I hope Professor Turley has a collaborative relationship with FIRE and assists in its defense of Free Speech on an unbiased basis.

  12. It’s unfair to call Turkey the Turkey dog. Unfair to dogs.
    The ACLU needs to stay on it’s feet and notbr subject to shame criticizm.

  13. Not sure who made the observation, but new examples keep proving the truth

    Any organization that is not specifically Conservative, will eventually devolve into far leftist dogma

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