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

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

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

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

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.”

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

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

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.”

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

Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie, 1990

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

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.”

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."

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."

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

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.”

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.”

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

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

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.”

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass, 1860

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

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

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.”

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

Please join us at Reunions 2023

Princetonians for Free Speech is hosting a breakfast on Sunday, May 28 at the Nassau Inn.  Meet the founders and hear about the state of academic freedom and free speech on campus, as well as PFS’s accomplishments and goals for the future.

Sign up for this free event here.

Nadine Strossen: An inspiration to college students and a true non-partisan

By Leslie Spencer

March 9, 2023

Nadine Strossen, a liberal feminist and civil liberties activist, led the American Civil Liberties Union from 1991 to 2008, the first woman to do so. She is the author of Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship, and was until 2019 a professor at New York Law School.  “I stopped teaching to devote all my time to advocating for free speech and academic freedom, it’s just so important right now,” she says.  

Most days now she can be found traveling to speaking engagements at college campuses and elsewhere throughout the country, often in her new role as senior fellow at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).  At 72 she shows no signs of slowing down, making over 250 appearance a year.

Wherever she goes, a central thread of her message is clear:  Free speech and academic freedom are for EVERYBODY.  “I am constantly telling liberals and progressives, contrary to what they believe, free speech and academic freedom are not only or primarily to protect conservatives and libertarians, and I have to tell my conservative and libertarian allies the very same message,” she says, to drive home her non-partisan imperative.

For her taste, there is a bit too much demonization of liberals and progressives by many conservatives, who often claim it is only their views that are being suppressed. “Unfortunately, this is not true,” she says, pointing to the many instances catalogued in a FIRE database showing that of the 800 instances of documented attempted retaliation against professors for exercising constitutionally protected speech nationwide (a shocking 60 percent of which have been successful), 40 percent of these attacks have come from the right, 60 percent from the left. Most important, of these attacks, by far the most come from extremes on both sides, with the victims representing the moderates.

She articulates a principled as well as a strategic reason to make common cause across the ideological spectrum. “It is essential that the moral high ground be maintained. You forfeit this if you are uneven in your application of principles,” she says.

For the second time this academic year, Strossen will appear at Princeton. On March 21 at 7 pm in Arthur Lewis Auditorium, she will be in conversation with Princeton legal scholar and political philosopher Robert P. George on the topic Civil Liberties, On Campus and Beyond.   Strossen and George both serve on the Advisory Counsel of Heterodox Academy, whose mission is to promote viewpoint diversity and constructive disagreement in higher education, and which currently boasts 5,000 members from 49 states and 65 countries. Their conversation is sure to demonstrate how two people with widely divergent beliefs and ideologies can agree and disagree on a variety of subjects and remain civil while doing so. 

Click here for link to full article

Is DEI Destroying Free Speech on Campus?

March 27, 2023

This is the title of a recently published empirical study in The Missing Data Depot on Substack.  The fact that administrative bloat has far exceeded the growth of faculty and students in numbers and power on American campuses is widely acknowledged. And as bureaucrats reshape and control campus life, anecdotal evidence abounds of the corrupting effects of their power on a university’s primary mission, the production and dissemination of knowledge. This first-of-its kind empirical study focuses exclusively on DEI bureaucracies, and concludes that they “often hurt and almost never help the speech climate on college campuses.”  The data shows that the bigger the DEI bureaucracy the more pervasive the climate of fear among students, particularly outside the classroom, on social media and in informal conversations in public settings like the quad or dining hall. This study gives evidence for what close observers have long suspected -- that the growth of DEI bureaucracies correlates closely with the demise of free speech and academic freedom on college campuses.  Graphs in this study show that Stanford, currently plagued by free speech scandals, has more DEI staff per 1,000 students than any university in the study. And among the Ivy League, Princeton holds the dubious rank of second only to Harvard.  Have a look here at this deep dive into the data.


Tuesday April 11, 4:30 pm

The Conformity Gauntlet in Higher Education

Greg Lukianoff, attorney, New York Times best-selling author and President and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE). He is the author of Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American DebateFreedom of Speech, and FIRE’s Guide to Free Speech on Campus. He co-authored The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure with Jonathan Haidt.

Location: Arthur Lewis Auditorium, Robertson Hall. Click here to reserve a spot.

Recent Event:  Civil Liberties: On Campus and Beyond

Nadine Strossen’s Call to Action

By Ethan Hicks ‘26
March 24, 2023

On Tuesday, March 21, Professor Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton, and Nadine Strossen, former president of the ACLU, sat down to discuss the history and modern state of free speech in America in their joint talk “Civil Liberties: On Campus and Beyond.” An engaged audience of students, faculty, and community members filled Lewis Auditorium to join George and Strossen for their fireside style chat hosted by Princetonians for Free Speech and Princeton Open Campus Coalition. 

Click here to read full article.

Open Letter to President Eisgruber and Princeton's Board of Trustees

March 1, 2023

To: President Eisgruber
       Members of the Board of Trustees of Princeton University

We are writing to you on behalf of Princetonians for Free Speech (PFS) to bring to your attention important new information relating to the petition to remove the statue of John Witherspoon from its prominent place on the plaza near Firestone Library and the Chapel. PFS is a Princeton alumni organization devoted to promoting free speech, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity at Princeton. Thousands of Princeton alumni, as well as many students, faculty, and university staff, follow PFS on our website.

PFS believes that this new information, particularly that obtained from tax records pertaining to Witherspoon’s ownership of slaves, changes the narrative of the debate on removal of the statue and challenges the basic assertions in the petition. In addition, the listening sessions took place without participants being aware of the true history of Witherspoon. Furthermore, this new information shows the history of Witherspoon on the University’s Princeton and Slavery Project website to be both incomplete and misleading.

Click here for link to full article