A tradition of free speech
|(Clockwise from upper-right) Prof. Jon Willand, Tom Sypniewski, Joseph Deringer, The Boy Scouts of America.|
olitical liberalism once championed the First Amendment; now it views free speech as a potential threat to efforts to promote a supportive, diverse, sensitive, and non-hostile environment. This perspective informs, for example, college speech codes, harassment regulations, and other speech-related regulations that infringe on all manner of protected speech.
CIR’s history of success
Over the last twenty-two years, CIR has established an impressive string of legal victories against the selective use of speech codes to suppress expression of certain points of view. Among CIR’s academic freedom precedents include Levin v. Harleston (Second Circuit, 1992), Iota Xi Chapter of Sigma Chi v. George Mason University (Fourth Circuit, 1993), and Silva v. University of New Hampshire (District Court, New Hampshire, 1994), Sypniewski v. Warren Hills School District (Third Circuit, 2002); Hinkle v. Baker (Central District, California, 2004).
CIR is currently respresenting citizen filmmaker James O’Keefe, who videotaped several encounters with employees of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) in an attempt to document illegal actions of ACORN employees who were assisting him and an accomplice in establishing a ficticious brothel. ACORN and serveral of its employees have sued O’Keefe for violating state laws that require the consent of both parties before recording conversations.
CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW RESPECTING AN ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION, OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF; OR ABRIDGING THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH, OR OF THE PRESS; OR THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE PEACEABLY TO ASSEMBLE, AND TO PETITION THE GOVERNMENT FOR A REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES.
– THE FIRST AMENDMENT TO THE US CONSTITUTION
A new tactic from an old foe
In the last few years, efforts to suppress speech have taken a new and alarming turn. Instead of suppressing student speech directly, schools now are concerned with advancing their own institutional speech right to express a single, favored point of view. On the basis of the educational interests this regulation ostensibly serves, schools actively remove students and faculty who appear to deviate from what schools self-servingly characterize as a “mainstream” view. In this way, schools are able to cloak the suppression of student speech behind the purported speech rights of the institution to express its own ideological perspective. What began as guarantors of academic freedom have come to be its biggest threat.
For example, in April 2005, CIR filed suit against Le Moyne College for removing a graduate student in education solely because of a paper which expressed traditional views about classroom management. Though the student received an “A minus” on the paper, the school expelled him solely because the view he expressed deviated from the school’s view about classroom management. Although LeMoyne is a private college, it justified the student’s removal on the ground that it was prohibited from certifying a teacher who expressed McConnell’s views.
Government agencies supress speech too
THE TRUE DANGER IS WHEN LIBERTY IS NIBBLED AWAY, FOR EXPEDIENCE…
– EDMUND BURKE
In recent years, the ideological assault on campus speech has spread beyond colleges and universities. Of particular concern to CIR has been the increasing tendency of government agencies to suppress points of view that undermine government policies, whether constructing new low-income housing or increasing the efficiency of tax collection efforts. Civil libertarians, who, in the past, filed suit over relatively tame expressions of religious sentiment, have stood by while federal agencies suppress protected speech of every other kind, seemingly with impunity. CIR blocked this tactic with a series of cases including, White v. Lee (Ninth Circuit, 2000), AHDC v. Fresno (Ninth Circuit, 2000); Southeast Citizens v. Boys Town (District of Columbia, 2002); Perez v. Posse Comitatus (Eastern District, New York, 2002).
Phil Hart’s Book
In Hendrickson v. U.S. (Northern District, California, 2005); and Hart v. U.S (Northern District, California, 2005) CIR challenged a particularly egregious violation of free-expression rights by a federal agency. Phil Hart and Pete Hendrickson each wrote a book about their views of the tax code. The IRS, however, disagreed with some of their views. Rather than simply making sure that individuals are paying their taxes, as is its job, the IRS decided to investigate the books that Hart and Hendrickson wrote. In fact, the IRS sent supoenas to credit card processors demanding the names and adresses of every individual who purchased the books. One can only speculate at the IRS’s motives, but the obvious effect of these investigations was to supress cearly protected speech critical of the government.
CIR stands alone
In dozens of cases across the country, CIR is the only organization willing to stand up in defense of free speech. CIR is the only law firm that will take up politically dangerous cases and take on all who would supress free speech.