Non-profit

Knight First Amendment Institute

Website:

www.knightcolumbia.org/

Location:

New York, NY

Tax ID:

81-4759386

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

Budget (2021):

Revenue: $5,777,944
Expenses: $3,780,467
Assets: $13,362,307

Type:

Civil Rights Advocacy Group

Formation:

2016

Executive Director:

Jameel Jaffer

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The Knight First Amendment Institute is a litigation and advocacy organization based at Columbia University in New York City specializing in free speech and freedom of the press issues in the digital age. 1 The group filed a lawsuit against then-President Donald Trump over his blocking users from his personal Twitter account. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually dismissed the lawsuit as moot after Twitter banned Trump from the platform in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol and Trump’s departure from office in 2021. 2

The group opposes laws requiring ByteDance, a Chinese company, to divest TikTok claiming that the law violates the free speech rights of TikTok’s users. 3

Background

The Knight Foundation and Columbia University launched the Knight First Amendment Institute in May 2016 to preserve and expand First Amendment rights in the digital age through research and education and by supporting litigation in favor of protecting freedom of expression and the press. Knight Foundation and Columbia University contributed $5 million each in operating funds and $25 million each in endowment funds to the institute for a total of $60 million. 4

A Knight Foundation poll found that news industry professionals believed that the industry was less able to pursue legal cases around free speech and freedom of the press issues than it was 10 years ago, with most also agreeing that First Amendment law has not kept pace with new digital-age demands. 5

Advocacy

Suing President Trump

The Knight First Amendment Institute sued then-President Donald Trump over his blocking of Twitter users from following his account. The group claimed his Twitter account constituted a First Amendment public forum and that then-President Trump had interfered with the First Amendment right of petition. Both a U.S. District Court and the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with the group, but the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately dismissed the case as moot after Trump left office and Twitter banned him from the platform in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol riot. 6

Opposition To TikTok Ban

The Knight First Amendment Institute opposed legislation that would ban TikTok if its owner, the Chinese company ByteDance, does not divest the platform. The group claimed the legislation would infringe on the free speech rights of TikTok’s users. 7

The group cited Packingham v. North Carolina, where the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law banning sex offenders from using social media, and Lamont v. Postmaster General, which struck down a federal law that barred Americans from receiving “communist political propaganda” from foreign countries unless they specifically asked the Postal Service to deliver it. 8

Julian Assange

In March 2024, the Knight First Amendment Institute’s executive director urged the U.S. government to drop Espionage Act charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. The group claimed prosecuting Assange for publishing classified information would have profound implications for press freedom and prevent journalists from exposing wrongdoing by the government. 9

Anti-Israel Protests

In April 2024, the Knight First Amendment Institute condemned the deployment of police to break up anti-Israel protests at universities as an assault on free speech and claiming the use of law enforcement to breakup the protests would set a bad precedent. 10

Funding

Beginning in 2017, the Knight First Amendment Institute received grants worth $1,150,000 from the MacArthur Foundation. 11

In February 2018, the Omidyar Nexus groups Democracy Fund and First Look Media gave $3.25 million, matching a $3.25 million grant from the libertarian Charles Koch Foundation. 12

Beginning in August 2022, the group received $450,000 from the Ford Foundation. 13

The Carnegie Corporation, Hewlett Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation also gave to the group. 14

Leadership

The Knight First Amendment Institute’s executive director is Jameel Jaffer. Jaffer formerly worked as the ACLU’s deputy legal director. 15

Finances

According to the Knight First Amendment Institute’s 2022 tax filing, the group reported $6,485,351 in revenue, $4,531,361 in expenses, and $13,023,228 in assets. 16

References

  1. “Knight Foundation, Columbia University Launch First Amendment Institute, $60 Million Project to Promote Free Expression in the Digital Age.” Knight Foundation, May 17, 2016. https://knightfoundation.org/press/releases/knight-foundation-columbia-university-launch-first/.
  2. Vile, John R. “Biden v. Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University (2021).” The Free Speech Center, February 18, 2024. https://firstamendment.mtsu.edu/article/biden-v-knight-first-amendment-institute-at-columbia-university/.
  3. Jaffer, Jameel. “There’s a Problem with Banning TikTok. It’s Called the First Amendment.” Knight First Amendment Institute, March 24, 2023. https://www.knightcolumbia.org/blog/theres-a-problem-with-banning-tiktok-its-called-the-first-amendment.
  4. “Knight Foundation, Columbia University Launch First Amendment Institute, $60 Million Project to Promote Free Expression in the Digital Age.” Knight Foundation, May 17, 2016. https://knightfoundation.org/press/releases/knight-foundation-columbia-university-launch-first/.
  5.  “Knight Foundation, Columbia University Launch First Amendment Institute, $60 Million Project to Promote Free Expression in the Digital Age.” Knight Foundation, May 17, 2016. https://knightfoundation.org/press/releases/knight-foundation-columbia-university-launch-first/.
  6. Vile, John R. “Biden v. Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University (2021).” The Free Speech Center, February 18, 2024. https://firstamendment.mtsu.edu/article/biden-v-knight-first-amendment-institute-at-columbia-university/.
  7. Jaffer, Jameel. “There’s a Problem with Banning TikTok. It’s Called the First Amendment.” Knight First Amendment Institute, March 24, 2023. https://www.knightcolumbia.org/blog/theres-a-problem-with-banning-tiktok-its-called-the-first-amendment.
  8. Jaffer, Jameel. “There’s a Problem with Banning TikTok. It’s Called the First Amendment.” Knight First Amendment Institute, March 24, 2023. https://www.knightcolumbia.org/blog/theres-a-problem-with-banning-tiktok-its-called-the-first-amendment.
  9. Specia, Megan. “Assange Extradition on Hold until U.S. Gives More Assurances.” The New York Times, March 26, 2024. https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/26/world/europe/julian-assange-uk-court-us-extradition.html.
  10. Chakravarthy, Apurva. “Knight Institute Condemns Universities’ Deployment of Police Forces Nationwide.” Columbia Daily Spectator, April 28, 2024. https://www.columbiaspectator.com/news/2024/04/28/knight-institute-condemns-universities-deployment-of-police-forces-nationwide/.
  11. “Knight First Amendment Institute – MacArthur Foundation.” Menu. Accessed June 17, 2024. https://www.macfound.org/grantee/knight-first-amendment-institute-10114649/.
  12. Glaisyer, Tom. “$3.25 Million to Support Knight First Amendment Institute.” Democracy Fund, February 22, 2018. https://democracyfund.org/idea/3-25-million-to-support-knight-first-amendment-institute/.
  13. “144203 – Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University Inc..” Ford Foundation. Accessed June 17, 2024. https://www.fordfoundation.org/work/our-grants/awarded-grants/grants-database/knight-first-amendment-institute-at-columbia-university-inc-144203/.
  14. Glaisyer, Tom. “$3.25 Million to Support Knight First Amendment Institute.” Democracy Fund, February 22, 2018. https://democracyfund.org/idea/3-25-million-to-support-knight-first-amendment-institute/.
  15. “Jameel Jaffer.” Knight First Amendment Institute. Accessed June 17, 2024. https://www.knightcolumbia.org/bios/view/jameel-jaffer.
  16. “Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, Full Filing – Nonprofit Explorer.” ProPublica. Accessed June 17, 2024. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/814759386/202301309349301770/full.
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: June - May
  • Tax Exemption Received: June 1, 2017

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2021 Jun Form 990 $5,777,944 $3,780,467 $13,362,307 $5,311 N $4,420,703 $0 $460,004 $0
    2020 Jun Form 990 $3,968,791 $3,446,183 $10,060,329 $734 N $3,407,492 $0 $242,256 $0
    2019 Jun Form 990 $5,109,258 $2,748,505 $9,816,784 $1,671 N $5,064,258 $45,000 $0 $0 PDF
    2018 Jun Form 990 $4,805,705 $1,921,589 $7,456,293 $1,933 N $4,805,705 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2017 Jun Form 990 $3,525,130 $877,108 $4,570,244 $0 N $3,525,130 $0 $0 $0 PDF

    Knight First Amendment Institute

    COLUMBIA UNIV 615 W 131 ST MC 8741
    New York, NY 10027-0000