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

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.”

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

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

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."

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

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.”

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

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

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

Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie, 1990

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

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

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.”

Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin, 1722

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

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.”

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

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.”

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass, 1860

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

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

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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Free Speech and Academic Freedom are Endangered at Princeton

Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of democracy and essential to learning. Yet surveys show that many university students not only do not understand the significance of free speech, they actually oppose it. Academic freedom is fundamental to the concept of a university.  Today, both freedoms are under attack at universities across the country, often by active, well-organized groups of faculty and students.  Princeton is no exception. Continue reading>>

Latest News and Commentary


July 19, 2021
By Princetonians for Free Speech Editorial

Excerpt: In the July edition of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, known to alumni as PAW, the Chair of PAW’s Board, Marc Fisher, discusses in a letter to readers the efforts of Princeton to bring PAW under greater control of the University.  While there may be legitimate reasons for some of the changes proposed by the University, it is very disturbing that the University at this point has not agreed to guarantee the continuing editorial independence of PAW.

As we stated in a letter published in PAW’s “In Box,” we believe all alumni should support Mr. Fisher’s efforts to maintain independent editorial control.

July 13, 2021
By academicfreedom.org

Excerpt: Today, the Academic Freedom Alliance released the following statement in support of the rights of Air Force Academy professor Lynne Chandler Garcia, who has come under fire for teaching critical race theory and subsequently defending herself in a Washington Post op-ed. Leading members of Congress have called for Professor Garcia’s termination. This is the third case in which the AFA has intervened with a public statement, following the successful conclusion of free speech cases at the University of San Diego and the University of Rhode Island in May.

“Principles of academic freedom and free speech include the right of professors to publish op-eds on matters of public concern without the threat of sanctions by their university employer. Unfortunately, members of Congress are not respecting those basic principles, and we call upon the United States Air Force Academy to hold firm to its stated principles."

July 8, 2021
By Abigail Anthony, rising junior at Princeton University
USA Today

Excerpt: Every right I have today results from movements once deemed “offensive.”

The idea that I, a 21-year-old woman, am not solely dedicated to housework would astonish the founders of Princeton University, where I am a student. It was less than 60 years ago that Princeton began admitting female students, but now women compose 50% of its undergraduate population. Women were largely excluded from American politics until only a century ago, but today I am a student in the Department of Politics. American society has progressed so greatly since its founding that now I can marry another woman, or a woman who has undergone gender reassignment surgeries.

The gauge of “offensive” evolves so drastically and rapidly that we cannot employ it as a reliable measure for appropriate conduct. We exercise many rights today – including the right to free expression – because unorthodox ideas were eventually recognized by society as acceptable. This does not immediately warrant all offensive propositions as valid, but proves it is prudent to consider such ideas.   Yet, many of my peers – and some of my professors – desire to restrict free speech. In the spirit of considering controversial opinions, I will afford them the courtesy of entertaining their proposition, although they rarely extend such grace to conservative perspectives.

July 1, 2021
By Marc Fisher
Princeton Alumni Weekly, July 2021 Issue

Excerpt: Since 1900, the Princeton Alumni Weekly has been, as its title page states, a “magazine by alumni for alumni.” What exactly that motto means is now the subject of discussions between the University administration and the magazine’s independent board. As the board’s chair, I want you to know that the future and character of your alumni magazine are at stake, and I invite you to make your voices heard.

This spring, University administrators informed PAW’s board that Princeton intends to change its relationship with the magazine to secure PAW’s financial health, to assure that PAW operates under the same rules as other University departments, and to protect against the magazine creating legal liability for the University. Princeton proposes to take on the entire cost of producing and distributing PAW. At the same time, Princeton has not guaranteed the continued editorial independence of the magazine.

June 30, 2021
By Keith E. Whittington, Princeton Professor of Politics
The Washington Post

Excerpt: Bills aimed at directing how race is taught in public schools and colleges are sweeping through Republican statehouses across the country. The proposals seem to be getting worse, not better. A bill recently introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature goes further than many others in trying to ban so much as the discussion of any “racist or sexist concept” in public elementary schools, high schools and colleges.

Let us set aside the unhelpful debate over whether what is at issue is something called “critical race theory.” Proponents and opponents of these bills have often talked past one another by shifting the boundaries of what belongs under the label. I have no doubt that there are many pernicious ideas and modes of teaching abroad in the land. Nonetheless, bills like the one proposed in Pennsylvania are the wrong tools for the job.

National and International

July 22, 2021
By Pat McCrory & Erich Prince
RealClear Politics

Excerpt: Earlier this month, Nikole Hannah-Jones, the lead author of The New York Times’ controversial (and historically dubious) 1619 Project and an apparent supporter of the Cuban regime, declined an offer of tenure from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She had initially been denied tenure. Then the university’s leadership caved amid the backlash to the initial decision, which was replete with accusations of (you guessed it) “racism.”

This flip-flop is hardly surprising. Certain statistics make clear that universities are unmistakably hostile to conservative (or even simply non-left-wing) viewpoints. Students on campuses across the country are self-censoring; free speech at universities is consistently evaporating; and speakers who challenge left-wing orthodoxies are shouted down or barred from speaking.

The time has come for conservatives concretely to respond. Universities should become less political overall. This might even take the form of basing a portion of instructors’ compensation on how students perform. Also, universities should not be having programs on “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” As has become clear, these are merely code for maligning and excluding anyone who does not support far-left, identitarian politics.

Pat McCrory served as the 74th governor of North Carolina from 2013 to 2017 and the 53rd mayor of Charlotte from 1995 to 2009. Erich Prince co-founded and runs the online magazine Merion West.

July 21, 2021
By Jonathan Turley

Excerpt: History professors Matthew Garrett and Erin Miller are suing the Kern Community College District. In their lawsuit, the professors alleged the denial of free speech and academic freedom after they publicly denounced social justice spending, and then were warned by the General Counsel of Kern Community College District not to engage in further such speech.

During a public event on September 12, 2019, Garrett argued that grant funds were being used by certain faculty members to push a partisan “social justice” agenda at the college and urged for an investigation into the grant expenditures. Professors Andrew Bond and Oliver Rosales, who sharply criticized Garret and Miller and refused to participate in a debate against them regarding the posting of anti-Marxist stickers around campus, are recipients of some of those grants. Bond and Rosales filed human resource complaints with the district against Garrett and Miller, and the school has reportedly refused to share the complaint.

July 21, 2021
By Shira Hoffer
Harvard Political Review

Excerpt: In the fall of 2020, two San Francisco State University professors invited Leila Khaled to speak at a virtual roundtable entitled “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance: A Conversation with Leila Khaled.” Khaled, a self-described “freedom fighter,” has hijacked two planes on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a US-designated terrorist organization. She unabashedly promotes violence, saying “When you defend humanity, you use all the means at your disposal … I chose arms and I believe that taking up arms is one of the main tools to solve this conflict in the interest of the oppressed and not the oppressors.” Facing increasing pressure, Zoom, Facebook, and YouTube refused to stream the event, citing unwillingness to sanction pro-terrorism content.

Although this event was shut down not by the college but by the tech companies, the controversy surrounding this event highlights two important campus questions: who should be invited to speak, and who gets to decide?


July 21, 2021
By Zach Wendling
Daily Nebraskan

Excerpt: Nearly two weeks after University of Nebraska Regent and gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen introduced a resolution opposing critical race theory across the University of Nebraska System (NU), top university leaders released a unified statement defending academic freedom. The statement, emailed to NU faculty, staff and students Wednesday morning, comes from NU President Ted Carter and the respective chancellors from each NU campus, including University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green.

In it, they say they write unified “in defense of freedom of expression for all members of the University of Nebraska community.” The statement also reads. “As our policies and practices make clear, the University of Nebraska is strongly committed to academic freedom.” On the other hand, Pillen has said he represents all the citizens of Nebraska, who expect their values to be upheld by the university, and his resolution does just that.

July 21, 2021
By Sabrina Conza
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: Last month, my colleague Daniel Burnett and I reported on an “Anti-Racist Rhetoric & Pedagogies” workshop at the University of Oklahoma, which taught instructors how to shut down disfavored topics and conversations in the classroom. Since then, FIRE has seen statements from some at OU disagreeing with our analysis.  Tellingly, however, none have seen fit to defend the actual words and statements that FIRE highlighted from the teacher training workshop.

Pyron Alvarez’s piece is titled “Why Boundaries for Classroom Speech Matter.” At FIRE, we agree that boundaries for classroom speech matter. Unfortunately, much of the criticism of FIRE’s reporting from the OU AAUP and others omits this understanding, falsely claiming that FIRE advocates for “an anything-goes approach in the classroom” or an “absolutist view of speech rights at the expense of other interests.”