The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE): Protecting the freedom of speech for all Americans


Attacks on free speech and expression — including the role of journalism and the people’s right to know in a free-thinking society — are constant, regardless of the swings of the political and cultural pendulums.

Advocating for those rights and educating Americans to understand them better has been the mission of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression since its founding in 1999. The acronym FIRE perfectly represents the organization’s effort to keep the fire of freedom burning bright.

The effort to stoke that fire is evident in FIRE’s growth from an approximately 15-person operation with a $2 million budget in 2012 to an approximately 100-person operation and a $37 million budget today.

“Much of that growth came from the precipitous rise in free speech violations on college campuses, particularly between 2013 and 2020. There has been an increase in an emotional justification for censorship. Speech can be violent and traumatic; therefore, it justifies administrators clamping down on what people can say on campus,” said Nico Perrino, FIRE’s executive vice president.

Perrino added that FIRE expanded its mission beyond college campuses in 2022 to defend the rights of all Americans to free speech and expression, regardless of its source. These include working with state and federal legislators to correct legislation with constitutional deficiencies, helping pass legislation to protect civil liberties and civil rights and engaging with and mobilizing supporters and volunteers for specific cases, initiatives and campaigns.

A recent case defending the rights of Ashland (Ohio) University’s student newspaper, The Collegian, is an excellent example of how FIRE defends free speech. The administration dismissed Ted Daniels, faculty adjunct instructor and advisor to The Collegian, “because he encouraged student reporters to seek comment on campus news stories from Ashland administrators and to otherwise engage in investigative reporting.”

Katelyn Meeks, managing editor of The Collegian, wrote an Aug. 30 editorial about Daniels being dismissed, which caught the attention of many faculty members who contacted FIRE about the situation.

A Sept. 8, 2023, letter from FIRE’s Student Press Freedom Initiative to Dr. Carlos Campo, the president of Ashland University, also expressed concerns “by demands that The Collegian submit pages for prior review, another clear violation of the publication’s press freedom.”

“Ted Daniels always said there’s a bit of investigating in every story you do. I was trying to schedule an interview with Dr. Campo to ask him about his decision to leave the university and other questions I wanted to ask about matters on the campus. A local news outlet was able to interview him, but not a journalist from The Collegian. It felt like a slap in the face as if we were not being taken seriously as student journalists,” Meeks said.

When Dr. Campo’s response to the FIRE did not result in a reversal of the new policies, a second communication was sent via email, re-emphasizing that The Collegian articles shouldn’t be subject to prior review. The policy was rescinded by late September, and student journalists could report independently.

“I was impressed by how FIRE handled the situation with grace and the care and attention it deserved. FIRE ensured the message was delivered and wasn’t leaving until our demands were met,” Meeks said.

Perrino said FIRE will host a first-ever, weeklong summit for high schoolers in June 2024 in Philadelphia to educate them about free speech and First Amendment principles. This is in addition to its annual summer conference for college students interested in learning more about these constitutional principles and values.

Bob Sillick has held many senior positions and served a myriad of clients during his 47 years in marketing and advertising. He has been a freelance/contract content researcher, writer, editor and manager since 2010.  He can be reached at


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