Words of Wisdom: Great Thinkers on Why Free Speech Is Vital

Jonathan Rauch
Jonathan Rauch, 2016

“The greatest idea in the history of human civilization is the idea that we are better off, personally and as a society, if we not only tolerate but actively protect speech and thought that is wrong-headed, offensive, bigoted, seditious,… more

Nadine Strossen
Nadine Strossen, former ACLU president, 2018

“In the long run, an open airing of discriminatory ideas, and an ensuing debate about them, may well be more effective in curbing them than censorship would be.”

Justice Louis Brandeis
Justice Louis Brandeis, concurring opinion in Whitney v. California, 1927

“If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced… more

George Washington
George Washington, 1783

“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We read of tortures in jails with electric devices, suicides among prisoners, forced confessions, while in the outside community ruthless persecution of editors, religious leaders, and political opponents suppress free speech—and a… more

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 2012 interview

"A constitution, as important as it is, will mean nothing unless the people are yearning for liberty and freedom.”

President Obama
President Barack Obama, September 2015, comments at high school town hall meeting in Des Moines, Iowa

“The purpose of college is not just... to transmit skills. It’s also to widen your horizons, to make you a better citizen, to help you to evaluate… more

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass, 1860

"Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thought and opinions has ceased to exist."

Ira Glasser
Ira Glasser, 2020 interview

“[A]fter [a] panel discussion [at a prestigious law school], person after person got up, including some of the younger professors, to assert that their goals of social justice for blacks, for women, for… more

Margaret Chase Smith
Margaret Chase Smith, 1950 speech against McCarthyism

"The right to criticize; the right to hold unpopular beliefs; the right to protest; the right of independent thought. The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation… more

James Madison
James Madison, 1788 speech

“I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."

Henry Steele Commager
Henry Steele Commager, 1954

“The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion. In the long run it will create a generation incapable of appreciating the… more

Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin, 1722

“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”

Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie, 1990

“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass, 1860 speech

“No right was deemed by the fathers of the Government more sacred than the right of speech. . . the great moral renovator of society and government.  . . .  Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thought and… more

Václav Havel, 2000
Václav Havel, 2000

"Courage in the public sphere means that one is to go against majority opinion (at the same time risking losing one's position) in the name of the truth."

William Brennan
Justice William Brennan, Keyishian v. Board of Regents (1967)

“[A]cademic freedom... is of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned. That freedom is therefore a special concern of the … more

Donald Downs
Donald Downs, 2020

“Punishing evil or bad thoughts amounts to thought control, which is the quintessential First Amendment sin and a hallmark of an authoritarian or totalitarian state. It is no accident that polities that coerce their vision of a new and… more

George Orwell
George Orwell, 1945; Preface to Animal Farm

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

John Lewis
John Lewis, 2017

“Without freedom of speech and the right to dissent, the civil rights movement would have been a bird without wings.”

Thurgood Marshall
Thurgood Marshall, Police Dept. of City of Chicago v. Mosley (1972)

“The First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.”

Constitution
United States Constitution, first amendment

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… more

John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill, On Freedom, 1859

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the… more

Jonathan Rauch
Jonathan Rauch, 2013

“History shows that the more open the intellectual environment, the better minorities will do.... [G]ay people know we owe our progress to freedom of speech and freedom of thought.... The best society for minorities is not the society… more

Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt, The Promise of Politics, written in latter half of 1950s

“If someone wants to see and experience the world as it ‘really’ is, he can do so only by understanding it as something that is shared by many people, lies between them, separates them,… more

What Princetonians Think

I Committed Journalism, and Princeton Told Me Not to Communicate

By Danielle Shapiro
Sept. 23, 2022

In March, my college’s director of student life, Momo Wolapaye, told me by phone that another student felt “distressed” by me and had “requested a no-communication order.” In a letter that served as official notice of the NCO, he declared that “neither you nor Harshini Abbaraju ’22 may have any communication with each other in person or through another party, by telephone, letter, e-mail, or other electronic media, or by any other means, including via social media.”

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Princeton ranks low in latest FIRE Free Speech Ranking

Princeton showed great progress in its positive presentation on free speech during this year's orientation, but much work remains to be done, as shown in the just released annual free speech rankings from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).  Princeton was a poor 169 out of 203 colleges and universities ranked.  These rankings are largely based on students perceptions, and therefore do not directly address Princeton issues such as the attack on Professor Katz for an article he wrote by the University itself over the last year. Hopefully this year's orientation will lead to further positive actions, and Princeton's FIRE ranking will improve next year.

Click here to see FIRE Rankings

Fight for Free Speech!

Freshman Orientation: A Welcome Change on Free Speech

By Stuart Taylor, Jr. and Edward Yingling
PFS exclusive content
September 6, 2022

We have been quite critical of Princeton's orientation a year ago, which contained not one word about Princeton's robust free speech rule and in fact contained a section on racism at Princeton that suggested free speech is a tool for racists. We will not revisit those criticisms here.

Instead, today we celebrate the dramatic turn toward championing free speech in general and Princeton’s free speech rule in particular that took place during freshman orientation at McCarter Theater on September 1, and especially in the eloquent speech to the freshman class by Myles McKnight, President of the Princeton Open Campus Coalition. Nearly 2,000 enthusiastic students packed the auditorium. The text of McKnight’s speech, which was live-streamed to other freshmen in locations around the campus, is posted below and within.

“[T]hat the fight for free speech has become partisan is a true shame,” McKnight told the assembled students. “Free speech is neither a conservative nor a progressive value. It is a truth-seeking value.”

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Why Students Must Stand for Speech

By Myles McKnight '23
September 1, 2022

This story originally appeared in Public Discourse, the journal of the Witherspoon Institute, and is reprinted with permission.
 
Note from the Editors: The following is an address delivered by Princeton University senior Myles McKnight on September 1 to members of Princeton’s incoming freshman class during their orientation.  In his remarks, Mr. McKnight explained why freedom of expression is fully integrated with the truth-seeking mission of the university, and admonished students to help build a common culture that fosters and enhances participation in the truth-seeking project. The speech has been lightly edited for clarity.
 
Good afternoon!

My name is Myles McKnight. I’m a senior in the Politics Department, and I’m currently the President of the Princeton Open Campus Coalition, a group of students working to promote the values of free speech, intellectual freedom, and robust discourse on campus.

I’m delighted to speak to you today at what is—in my view—the most important session of your freshman orientation. I say this, not to self-aggrandize, but because the values and commitments we’re discussing this evening are absolutely essential to the fulfillment of our university’s truth-seeking mission. (And, by the way, as the unifying good of our university, that mission is the very thing that makes having and maintaining our university a worthwhile project in the first place.)

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