Robert M. O’Neil receives 2010 Freedom to Read Foundation Roll of Honor Award

For Immediate Release
Tue, 06/01/2010


Barbara Jones

CHICAGO - Robert M. O’Neil, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression at the University of Virginia (UVA), is the recipient of the 2010 Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) Roll of Honor Award. 

O’Neil, who also serves on the law faculty at UVA, has a storied history as an advocate for the First Amendment.  He began his legal career as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., in 1962, and from there held a number of positions in academia, including president of the University of Virginia.  As founding director of the Thomas Jefferson Center, he helped establish the “Jefferson Muzzles,” which call attention to those who have abridged free speech and press.  Over its 30 years, the Center has participated in dozens of legal briefs promoting the First Amendment.  O’Neil has made academic freedom a hallmark of his career, particularly through his work with the American Association of University Professors.  He is the author of several books, including “The Rights of Public Employees” (second edition, 1993), “Classrooms in the Crossfire”(1981), and “Free Speech in the College Community” (1997), “The First Amendment and Civil Liability” (2001), and “Academic Freedom in the Wired World,” (2008) as well as many articles in law reviews and other journals.  He is also a member of the National Advisory Board of the American Civil Liberties Union.

O’Neil was the keynote speaker at FTRF’s 10th Anniversary Gala in 1979, and at the Foundation’s 40th Anniversary Gala in 2009 he presented the Thomas Jefferson Center’s William J. Brennan Award for free expression to FTRF Executive Director Judith Krug (posthumously).

“Robert O’Neil epitomizes the values of the Freedom to Read Foundation and the Roll of Honor Award,” said Roll of Honor Committee Chair Jonathan Bloom.  “His work with the Thomas Jefferson Center, with which FTRF has collaborated on several occasions, has long helped to bolster legal protections for free speech and to shine a light on those whose actions stray from First Amendment principles.  He truly understands Justice Brandeis’ dictate that the answer to bad speech is ‘more speech, not enforced silence.’”

“Bob has been a great ally to the Freedom to Read Foundation for decades,” said FTRF President Kent Oliver.  “His career as a writer, speaker, thinker and lawyer is remarkable.  We are thrilled to be able to present the Foundation’s Roll of Honor Award to such a legendary figure in the free speech community.”

The award will be presented at the 2010 ALA Annual Conference during its Opening General Session from 5:30-7 p.m. on Saturday, June 26, at the Washington, D.C., Convention Center.

The Freedom to Read Foundation Roll of Honor was established in 1987 to recognize and honor those individuals who have contributed substantially to FTRF through adherence to its principles and/or substantial monetary support.  FTRF was founded in 1969 to promote and defend the right of individuals to freely express ideas and to access information in libraries and elsewhere.  FTRF fulfills its mission through the disbursement of grants to individuals and groups, primarily for the purpose of aiding them in litigation, and through direct participation in litigation dealing with freedom of speech and of the press.