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

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

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.”

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.”

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

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.”

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

Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin, 1722

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

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

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

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

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.”

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.”

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."

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

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."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie, 1990

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

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

Princeton Students question Eisgruber's address

Editor’s note: Two Princeton students, rising senior Matthew Wilson, a PFS fellow, and rising sophomore Danielle Shapiro, president of the Princeton Open Campus Coalition, have published in the Daily Princetonian and the Princeton Tory penetrating critiques of President Eisgruber’s May 30 commencement address . Wilson called it “divisive” and Shapiro called it “misguided, valuing freedom of speech as useful only insofar as it enables the University to produce activists in service of particular causes.” She also noted that “for all five [honorary] degree recipients, save one outstanding biologist, the ‘ways that one might live a life of leadership and service’ were almost exclusively focused on political activism, with truth-seeking sidelined in favor of intersectionality.

Language Courses at Princeton Suppress Dissenting Views

By Ethan Hicks '26

According to Princeton’s free speech rules, “the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.” However, this commitment to free inquiry is not currently being fulfilled in Princeton’s introductory language courses. . . . While the purpose of these courses is to teach students to be conversationally proficient in another language, these courses have become increasingly politicized. For instance, gender and sexual identity was the focus of the first half of my Intermediate Spanish 108 course.

Click here for link to full article

A new survey shows that Princeton has far to go on free speech.

Results of a new survey of Princeton students sponsored by PFS has just been released.  Today Real Clear Politics published an article by PFS co-founder Ed Yingling that highlights the survey’s key findings.

“Despite rosy statements by Princeton about the state of free speech at the University, our survey shows there is a large gap between such statements and reality; students are often reluctant to state their views, and many students have little or no understanding of what free speech means,” said PFS President Stuart Taylor, Jr. “We believe this survey can provide valuable insight into that gap, as well as ideas to close it.”

Click here to read the article.

Two recent PFS on-campus events are now available on YouTube!

The Conformity Gauntlet in Higher Education

A talk by Greg Lukianoff, CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE)

Greg is an attorney and New York Times best-selling author. He is the author of Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, Freedom from Speech, and FIRE’s Guide to Free Speech on Campus. Most recently, 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.  This event was co-hosted by Princetonians for Free Speech on April 11, 2023.

Click here to watch the event

Civil Liberties – On Campus and Beyond

A conversation between Nadine Strossen and Princeton Professor Robert P George

Nadine Strossen is a New York Law School professor emerita, a FIRE Senior Fellow, the past national President of the ACLU, and a leading expert on constitutional law and civil liberties.  She serves on the advisory boards of the ACLU, the Academic Freedom Alliance, Heterodox Academy and the National Coalition Against Censorship. Strossen appeared in conversation with Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. This event was co-hosted by Princetonians for Free Speech on March 21, 2023 at 7:30 pm.

Click here to watch the event

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