Advisory Council and Statement of Purpose
We defend free expression, pure and simple.
Vincent Blasi Corliss Lamont Professor of Civil Liberties, Columbia Law School
Noam Chomsky Institute Professor and Professor of Linguistics emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Marc Cooper Journalist; author; Professor of Journalism at The University of Southern California (retired); former contributing editor, The Nation
Jerry Coyne Professor Emeritus, Ecology and Evolution, the University of Chicago
Samantha Harris Attorney; Partner, Allen Harris; former Vice President and Director for Policy Research, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)
Wendy Kaminer Attorney; journalist; author; former national board member, American Civil Liberties Union
Amna Khalid Associate Professor of History, Carleton College
Brian Leiter Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence, the University of Chicago Law School
John R. MacArthur Journalist; author; President and Publisher, Harper’s Magazine
Steven Pinker Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology, Harvard University
Helen Pluckrose Author; Founder, Counterweight
Richard Shweder Harold H. Swift Distinguished Service Professor of Human Development in the Department of Comparative Human Development, the University of Chicago
Geoffrey Stone Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, the University of Chicago
Nadine Strossen John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law, emerita, New York Law School; former President, American Civil Liberties Union
Andrew Sullivan Author; journalist; former editor, The New Republic; Founder, The Weekly Dish
Eugene Volokh Gary T. Schwartz Distinguished Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law
Free speech promotes knowledge, holds governments to account, exposes wrongdoing, challenges orthodoxies, and demolishes shibboleths. Free speech is the foundation on which all our other freedoms are built and the means by which societies – ultimately, and by fits and starts – improve themselves. Engaging in free speech is the essential democratic process, and it is neither easy nor pretty: Free speech necessarily entails dispute and the promulgation of provocative and sometimes reprehensible, even dangerous, ideas. But a liberal and self-critical society can survive only if it has the tolerance and confidence to eschew the universal temptation to persecute people for voicing disfavored opinions.
Today state legislators push for laws aimed to restrict professors from teaching ideas deemed divisive. Public university administrators muzzle faculty from bearing witness in court on matters deemed contrary to the state’s interests. Politicians and administration officials label dissent on foreign policy as treason. Experts argue that the government should monitor and moderate online views deemed erroneous. Moreover, free speech is endangered as much by cultural and social forces as by government action, and the contested ground includes not only the legislatures and the courts, but also the workplace, the college campus, the public library, the schools, online platforms–indeed, all of civil society and cultural life. Employees are driven from their jobs, speakers from their lecterns, and students and professors from their universities for speaking their minds on a host of political and social issues. Art is banished from galleries, stages, and bookstores. Discussion and debate are suppressed as harmful. Ideas and arguments are judged dangerous and expelled from the public discourse. Elements of both the Left and the Right have succumbed to this censorious impulse.
Our purpose is at once straightforward and difficult: We defend free speech, pure and simple. We defend the principles—never popular and now reckoned by many to be outmoded—that speech must be “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open” (to quote Justice William Brennan) and that “no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in matters of politics...or other matters of opinion” (to quote Justice Robert Jackson). We defend people of any political stripe whose expression is muzzled and whose livelihoods and educations are threatened because of the opinions they hold or the ideas they avow. We know that some on the Right have cynically and speciously embraced free speech as a cudgel to beat their ideological opponents; we know that some on the Left have abandoned their commitment to free speech rather than defend the expression of views they despise. But we are a nonpartisan free speech advocacy group. Uniquely, we embrace no cause but free expression; we will not allow that cause to be politicized.
We believe that all opinions and ideas ought to be vigorously disputed, and that those who engage in public discussion should expect that their views may arouse anger and condemnation. But we distinguish between contesting ideas and driving those who espouse them from their jobs and from the public square. We disagree with those who view organized and vociferous public criticism of someone’s opinions as, in itself, a dangerous sign of “cancel culture.” But we condemn those who accompany such criticism with illiberal demands for censure or dismissal. An engaged and informed citizenry is vital to democracy. A coercive atmosphere in which people fear that voicing their opinions on matters of public interest could cost them their jobs or their educations degrades our civic and intellectual life and imperils self-government.
We know that free speech will forever occupy a precarious position. Only the voices of the less powerful, the dissenters, the marginalized—and, yes, of those deemed by many, even most, to be dangerously wrong or abhorrent—need protection, so the urge to suppress free expression will always be indulged. The current political landscape is dominated by those who are outright hostile to free speech and by those who essentially believe in “free speech for me, but not for thee” (to quote the great civil libertarian Nat Hentoff)—and who are thereby outright hostile to free speech. We stand for those willing to put aside their politics and ideologies, whatever they may be, to defend the first principle of democracy and of intellectual progress.
Marc Cooper Senior Adviser
Jon Zobenica Senior Editor