David R. Henderson  

In Defense of FIRE

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Scott Alexander writes:

This is a bizarre claim, given the existence of groups like Accuracy In Media, Media Research Center, Newsbusters, Foundation For Individual Rights In Education, Heterodox Academy, et cetera which are all about the right seeking greater fairness in mainstream institutions, some of which are almost fifty years old. (italics his)

Actually the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is not "all about" the right seeking greater fairness in mainstream institutions. It's all about defending freedom of speech on campuses.

When I first heard about FIRE, it was in the early 2000s and my daughter had just started, or was about to start (I can't remember which) attending college. So when I found out about an organization that was defending freedom of speech on campus, I decided to follow it. I started out skeptical. Specifically, since this was shortly after 9/11, would FIRE defend freedom of speech of people who, say, were hostile to Muslims and, at the same time, defend freedom of speech of Muslims who were hostile to America? I found one case of each, and in both cases, FIRE defended freedom of speech gloriously. So I sent off $100 and, when I started receiving expensive glossies in the mail (mailing costs alone, if I recall correctly, were about $1.71 apiece) every 8 weeks, I contacted them and told them that if they stopped sending mail, I would promise $200 a year at a minimum. Both of us have kept our promises.

Here's the first paragraph of their mission statement:

The mission of FIRE is to defend and sustain individual rights at America's colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience--the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity. FIRE's core mission is to protect the unprotected and to educate the public and communities of concerned Americans about the threats to these rights on our campuses and about the means to preserve them.


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CATEGORIES: Liberty




COMMENTS (9 to date)
Scott Alexander writes:

I agree FIRE is great and that we should support it. I don't think that's incompatible with it being part of an attempt to combat what was seen to be an unfair bias and attempt to enforce liberal orthodoxy in mainstream institutions.

Samuel Lichtenstein writes:

Scott, you misspelled "illiberal".

I read David's post as a useful corrective, pointing out that FIRE (unlike, say, Heterodox Academy) was founded to defend a set of classically liberal values that in principle are completely orthogonal to the red/blue tribal axis. It just so happens that these values have been *more* under assault from the left than the right in recent years. But 10 years ago I remember attending a speech at the Kennedy School by Iranian ex-president Khatami, which Mitt Romney tried to shut down. (I don't know if FIRE got involved, but it may not have needed to since KSG held its ground.) Likewise, although FIRE may not have been around, it was rightwing Christian nutjobs who were always trying to get "satanist" fantasy books banned from school libraries back in the 80s and 90s. My point is that when FIRE was established, it probably didn't seem like a particularly anti-leftist project.

ColoComment writes:

I like your strategy for non-mailings.
I've written each of my charitable contribution targets & asked to be removed from all their mailing/communication lists, but they keep coming, shinier and bulkier and more expensive-looking than ever. It simply never occurred to me that a bribe would be necessary. I may have to re-think that.
:-)

Sam writes:

I should clarify that I didn't mean to imply Heterodox Academy isn't also *in principle* defending non-ideological values (thought diversity). Just that it is closer to an example of what Scott was talking about in his post: an attempt to combat left-wing dominance in academia, since that is clearly the status quo as of its founding. (Although I suspect the Heterodox folks would also be cool with trying to get places like the GMU Econ Dept to hire a few Marxists, or Bob Jones Uni to hire some avowedly anti-religious scholars of Christian history.)

Maximum Liberty writes:

A model person and a model organization for us all to emulate:

So I sent off $100 and, when I started receiving expensive glossies in the mail (mailing costs alone, if I recall correctly, were about $1.71 apiece) every 8 weeks, I contacted them and told them that if they stopped sending mail, I would promise $200 a year at a minimum. Both of us have kept our promises.

Jon Murphy writes:

FIRE helped me out in a legal situation while I was in undergrad, even providing me with free legal representation. Since then, I've donated whatever I could

Thomas B writes:

FIRE has also taken on due process, possibly since (but certainly boosted by) the Dear Colleague letter that largely suspended due process rights for (in practice) male students.

Hazel Meade writes:

I should also note that many organizations like "Accuracy in Media" are not non-partisan. A lot of these fact-checking organizations are pushing a partisan agenda. There's another one I can't recall the name of, but one consistently goes after right-wing media outlets and the other goes after left-wing ones.
The only one I know of that is consistently non-partisan is Snopes.

Jeremy writes:

@ Hazel:

The one going after right-wing media is Media Matters. The one going after left-wing media is the Media Research Center.

Among others.

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