About Us


“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 peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” -First Amendment to the United States Constitution

Students’ speech rights on campus are threatened on a regular basis. But the prospect of standing up to a school can be overwhelming – it can be expensive and time-consuming (not to mention awkward, since the student probably still wants a diploma at the end of the day). That’s why most students don’t take action. But what if students who wanted to stand up for free speech on campus were supported by like-minded students from all over the country? And what if those students were part of an organization that had the resources to fight back? Suddenly, it’s not so daunting after all.

That’s why Speech First was created. By coming together, we’ve created a nationwide community to reassure students that they won’t fight these cases alone and that they’ll be supported every step of the way: on campus, in the media, and in court. We’re a membership association of students, parents, faculty, alumni, and concerned citizens from across the country who’ve had enough, and who want to fight back.

We believe that free and open discourse is an essential component of a comprehensive education. We are committed to restoring the freedom of speech on college campuses because we believe that by exposing students to different and challenging ideas, they will emerge stronger, smarter, and more resilient.

Speech First will protect students’ free speech rights on campus. Through advocacy, litigation, and other means, we will put colleges and universities on notice that shutting down unwanted speech will no longer be tolerated.

Speech First will fight for the rights of students all over the country. Join the movement today!

Our Team

Nicole Neily is the president of Speech First. Nicole grew up passionate about civil liberties thanks to her family history; her grandparents, both Japanese-American citizens born in California, met in the Manzanar War Relocation Center during WWII. In college, Nicole joined the Student ACLU and passed out “know your rights” cards to over 8,000 sorority members while serving as vice president of risk management for the University of Illinois’ Panhellenic Council, at the time the largest Greek system in the country.

Nicole’s commitment to First Amendment protections was most recently strengthened while serving as the president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, an investigative journalism nonprofit focused on highlighting abuses of power, cronyism, and government overreach in the states at Watchdog.org. Watchdog journalists frequently uncovered misdeeds in various universities across the country – including the cronyism scandal at the University of Texas that led to the departure of powerful university president Bill Powers. Through tenacity, shoe leather, and countless Freedom of Information Act requests, reporters worked to hold Ivory Tower administrators (and others) accountable.

Nicole has also worked in the private sector as a senior vice president at Dezenhall Resources, a DC-based communications firm; as executive director and senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum; as manager of external relations for the Cato Institute; and as director of research analysis for the Winston Group, a public opinion and message design firm.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Illinois, and a master’s of public policy from Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy. Originally from the Chicago suburbs, she now lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband Clark and two children.

Board of Directors

  • Kim Dennis
  • Jamil Jaffer
  • Adam White
  • Kathryn Ciano Mauler
  • Josh Holdenried