Given the hegemony and influence of “progressives” who aren’t “progressive” when they try to stifle speech, there can’t be too many of these organizations. We have, among others, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, Counterweight, and the Academic Freedom Alliance.
Now we have a new one: The United States Free Speech Union(USFSU), which operates on a Substack page; the link in this sentence goes to both the Mission Statement and and the list of advisors (I’m on the advisory council of several of these committees/groups, and this is one; note that there are four advisors from the University of Chicago, aka “Free Speech Central”).
Here’s the entry page to the new organization’s site, The Free Voice (click on screenshot):
While these groups overlap to some extent, there are also differences. For example, the Academic Freedom Alliance concentrates on violations of academic freedom and free speech in higher education, and also has a stable of lawyers and law professors if you need legal help. FIRE also concentrates on colleges and uses “epistolary pressure”: publicity and writing letters to miscreant, speech-violating universities. FIRE also publishes on its website violations by colleges and universities (notably its “disinvitation database“) and ranks many of them yearly for free-speech policy.
USFSU concentrates (not exclusively) on violations of free speech in employer/employment situations, which can include academia. It, too, writes letters and applies moral pressure to miscreant colleges, but also makes legal referrals. Here is part of USFSU’s mission statement:
Our mission is at once straightforward and difficult: The Free Speech Union defends free speech, pure and simple. We defend the principles—never popular and now reckoned by many to be outmoded—that speech must be “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open” (to quote Justice William Brennan) and that “no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in matters of politics…or other matters of opinion” (to quote Justice Robert Jackson). We defend people of any political stripe whose expression is muzzled and whose livelihoods and educations are threatened because of the opinions they hold or the ideas they avow. We know that some on the Right have cynically and speciously embraced free speech as a cudgel to beat their ideological opponents; we know that some on the Left have abandoned their commitment to free speech rather than defend the expression of views they despise. But we are a nonpartisan free speech advocacy group. Uniquely, we embrace no cause but free expression; we will not allow that cause to be politicized.
We believe that all opinions and ideas ought to be vigorously disputed, and that those who engage in public discussion should expect that their views may arouse anger and condemnation. But we distinguish between contesting ideas and driving those who espouse them from their jobs and from the public square. We disagree with those who view organized and vociferous public criticism of someone’s opinions as, in itself, a dangerous sign of “cancel culture.” But we condemn those who accompany such criticism with illiberal demands for censure or dismissal. An engaged and informed citizenry is vital to democracy. A coercive atmosphere in which people fear that voicing their opinions on matters of public interest could cost them their jobs or their educations degrades our civic and intellectual life and imperils self-government.
The people in charge of the USFSU are these:
Benjamin Schwarz Chief Executive Officer
- Author; former National and Literary Editor of The Atlantic Monthly
Jevon Conroy Chief Operating Officer
- Attorney; Social Entrepreneur
If you want to contact the USFSU, go to this link.
And, as an example of epistolary pressure, Ben Schwarz has written a long letter to the leadership of MIT about the Dorian Abbot case. (You’ll recall that MIT canceled a prestigious lecture by Abbot on global warming after they found that he had criticized diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.) Here Schwarz dismantles MIT’s “defense” of the cancellation—these defenders include MIT’s President, its Provost, and the head of the EAPS department that invited Abbot to speak—as well as defenses by other “progressives” who hold ideological purity above free speech.
You can read Ben’s letter by clicking on the screenshot:
It’s a long letter, aiming to shoot down every argument defending MIT’s actions, so I’ll reproduce just the first two paragraphs. These will give you an idea of its aim and its strong tone.
Dear President Rief, Provost Schmidt, and Professor van der Hilst:
As CEO and President of the US Free Speech Union, I write not to rehearse the criticism with which you are already amply familiar regarding the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences’ (EAPS) cancelation of Dorian Abbot’s John H. Carlson Lecture. Rather, I write to express my consternation regarding the public statements you have made in your efforts to defend or contextualize that decision. Those statements misconstrue and mischaracterize the meaning and purpose of academic freedom and of the scholarly public lecture. They reveal an unawareness of a host of historical topics with which academic leaders should be conversant. And, in some instances, they are so recklessly misleading that they approach calumny. In short, in a situation that demands clarity, rigor, and honesty, your statements contort scholarly principles.
You have issued a number of justifications, which President Rief and Provost Schmidt patronizingly label “facts,” to correct what you have averred are distortions introduced by “the media” (to quote President Rief and Provost Schmidt). According to you, these facts are: (1) It is “a mistake” to view the cancelation of Professor Abbot’s lecture “as an affront on [sic] academic freedom” (to quote Professor van der Hilst), because, as you all have explained, “Professor Abbot has the freedom to speak as he chooses on any subject” (to quote Provost Schmidt), just as EAPS has “the freedom to pick the speaker who best fits our needs” (to quote Professor van der Hilst). (2) Concomitantly, because the Carlson Lecture is an annual address in which MIT’s EAPS chooses a distinguished scientist to communicate her or his ideas about climate science to the public, not primarily to fellow scientists, academic freedom is not at issue. (3) Because some students and faculty at MIT have deemed distasteful Professor Abbot’s views on an unrelated topic—diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies in the academy—the controversy created by those students and faculty would “overshadow” (to quote Provost Schmidt) the purpose of the Carlson Lecture. (4) Professor Abbot is unfit to deliver the Carlson Lecture because of what Provost Schmidt has characterized as his “manner of presenting” his arguments regarding DEI policies, arguments that Professor van der Hilst states draw “analogies to genocide,” are “deeply offensive,” “inflammatory, polarizing,” and “stifle” discussion.
I address your assertions seriatim. . . .
A big “OUCH” to MIT!