The Hugh M. Hefner Foundation will hold its 2018 First Amendment Award ceremony tonight, honoring those who have made significant contributions to upholding and bringing to life First Amendment rights.

This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award will be bestowed upon Joan E. Bertin, longtime Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), who for 20 years was a leader and activist for the organization and responsible for its tremendous growth over the years. She receives a Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award for her commitment of decades-long defense of human freedoms of thought, inquiry and expression in all forms, including the media, arts, video games, and books.

Bertin began her career working for more than two decades in the non-profit legal sector, first representing indigent clients in welfare, housing, and employment disputes, and then as an attorney in the national office of the ACLU.  After a four-year break to teach at Columbia and Sarah Lawrence, she welcomed a return to activism and joined NCAC in 1997 as executive director. Joan doubled the size of NCAC and extended its reach into many new issue areas, including academic freedom, “pornographic” art, the Patriot Act, media violence, video game ratings, Internet freedom, boycotts, cyberbullying, and suppression of science.  The number of participating organizations grew to 56 national non-profits, including religious, artistic, professional, education, labor and civil liberties groups. Under Joan’s leadership, NCAC took action in over 1,000 cases and Joan raised the funding to launch an Arts Advocacy Project, which became the leading defender of free speech in the arts.

Christie Hefner established the Awards in 1979, in conjunction with Playboy Magazine’s 25th anniversary, to honor individuals who fought to protect and enhance First Amendment rights for all Americans.

“The HMH Awards honor distinguished individuals whose actions support the First Amendment, and year after year we continue to celebrate renowned and unique cases of citizens going above and beyond to utilize this right,” says Christie Hefner, Chairman of the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards. “Continuing to fight to preserve our First Amendment, especially now, is one of the most important and vital contributions we can make.”

The other award winners this year are:

Simon Tam (Arts & Entertainment), the leader of the Asian-American rock band, The Slants, which fought a seven-year battle to defend their right to register the band’s trademark after they were denied based on the grounds that the name was deemed disparaging by the government. Simon founded the band on the principle of representation and wanted to instill a sense of pride in other Asian-Americans by picking a name for their group that embraced their features. The Slants contended that the name was a case of reclaiming a weaponized term and that marginalized groups should “determine what’s best for ourselves.” The U.S Trademark Office denied The Slants their rights by citing an obscure 70-year old law, claiming that the band’s name was disparaging, and using wiki-joke sites like to support the decision. A federal court sided with Tam, but then the Patent and Trademark Office sued to avoid being compelled to register the name. The Supreme Court heard the case and ruled unanimously in favor of The Slants. Kimberly Moore, Circuit Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Court said, “Words — even a single word — can be powerful. Mr. Simon Tam named his band The Slants to make a statement about racial and cultural issues in this country. With his band name, Mr. Tam conveys more about our society than many volumes of undisputedly protected speech.”

Laura Kipnis (Book Publishing), is a cultural critic whose 2017 book, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, argues that the climate of overblown accusation and sexual hysteria on American campuses is setting back gender progress, rather than addressing the realities of assault and harassment. A committed feminist, Kipnis was surprised to find herself the object of a protest march by student activists at her university for writing an essay about sexual paranoia on campus. Next, she was brought up on Title IX complaints for creating a “hostile environment”. She wrote a whistleblowing essay about the ensuing seventy-two-day investigation, which propelled her to the center of national debates over free speech, “safe spaces,” and federal overreach of Title IX. In the process she uncovered an astonishing netherworld of accused professors and students, campus witch-hunts, and Title IX officers run amok. Drawing on investigative reporting, cultural analysis, and her own experiences, Unwanted Advances demonstrates the chilling effect of this new sexual McCarthyism on higher education and is a risk-taking, often darkly funny interrogation of feminist paternalism, the covert sexual conservatism of hook-up culture, and the institutionalized backlash of holding men alone responsible for mutually drunken sex.

Allison Stanger (Education), is a liberal Professor of International Politics and Economics at Middlebury College. When a student group invited conservative social scientist, Charles Murray, to speak on campus, Stanger supported the event despite her opposition to the policy recommendations in Murray’s The Bell Curve. Stanger believes it is imperative for students to be exposed to alternate viewpoints, even if they’re offensive, and therefore agreed to ask the first four questions and then moderate a discussion with the author during an on-campus event. Her objective was to show students that our voices can be weapons of the weak against the powerful, and we can truly make an impact through verbal debate. When student and faculty protesters refused to let Murray speak, Stanger was forced to move the discussion to an alternate location on campus and live stream the event, which enraged those who had wanted to shut it down. Afterwards, as Stanger and Murray were departing campus, she was injured during a violent confrontation with the protestors and had to be taken to the hospital. Stanger places much of the blame for the violence on a small minority of faculty members who encouraged students to silence Murray rather than debate him. Stanger’s philosophy is that “shutting down speech is an invitation to violence,” and that educators have a responsibility to allow all viewpoints to be heard in order to teach students how to think — not what to think. Months after the event, Stanger testified at a Congressional hearing titled “Exploring Free Speech on College Campuses,” and appeared on the C-Span show, “Q&A,” to further discuss the Middlebury incident and rally for the free exchange of ideas on college campuses.   She also wrote two pieces for the New York Times defending freedom of expression.

Jamie Kalven (Journalism), an independent journalist who broke the story of the fatal 2014 police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in Chicago and subsequently resisted a subpoena demanding he reveal his source. The official account of the shooting, reported by the press, was that the boy had lunged at a police officer with a knife, leaving the officer with no choice but to defend himself. Kalven received a tip from a source in law enforcement that the incident was very different from what had been reported and that there was dashboard camera footage to prove it. In the course of his investigation, Kalven found a civilian witness who described what he had seen and secured McDonald’s autopsy which revealed he had been shot sixteen times. Kalven’s article, “Sixteen Shots,” published in Slate in February 2015, contributed to the eventual public release of the video and first-degree murder charges against the police officer. In 2017, Kalven was subpoenaed by the officer’s lawyers in an effort to force him to reveal his source. He refused on First Amendment grounds. Facing the possibility of imprisonment for contempt, he endured a two-month legal battle and ultimately prevailed.

This year’s distinguished judges, who also will be presenting the awards, are:

Michael A. Bamberger, senior counsel in the New York office of the law firm Dentons and, since 1977, general counsel of the Media Coalition, which defends the First Amendment rights of businesses that produce and distribute books, magazines, movies, videos, recordings, and video games. One of the leading First Amendment lawyers in the U.S., Bamberger has successfully challenged dozens of federal, state, and local laws that would censor art and information and restrict the rights of Americans to purchase works protected by the Constitution. Bamberger is the author of Reckless Legislation: How Lawmakers Ignore the Constitution (Rutgers University Press, 2000).

Shelby Coffey III, vice chair of the Newseum in Washington, D.C.  Coffey is a senior fellow of the Freedom Forum, where he studied and wrote about the media and First Amendment issues. He was executive vice president at ABC News in New York before joining CNN in 1999, where he was news chief at CNNfn. Coffey was the editor and executive vice president of the Los Angeles Times from 1989 to 1997. During his tenure, the Los Angeles Times won five Pulitzer Prizes and was a finalist for the award 25 times. In 1995, the National Press Foundation named Coffey Editor of the Year in recognition of the newspaper’s coverage of the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and the 1994 O.J. Simpson trial. Before joining the Times, Coffey held editorial positions with the Dallas Times HeraldU.S. News & World Report, and The Washington Post.

Zephyr Teachout, political activist, former political candidate, and Associate Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law. A talented and creative scholar, Professor Teachout brings a rich understanding of laws governing political behavior, both domestically and abroad, as well as the insights of her original work on corruption and its constitutional history. Teachout is the author of numerous publications and papers on politics and corruption. She received a 2014 Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award in the Book Publishing category for her masterly work of scholarship, Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United (Harvard University Press, 2014).

About the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation:
The Hugh M. Hefner Foundation was established to work on behalf of individual rights in a democratic society.  The primary focus of the foundation is to support organizations that advocate for and defend civil rights and civil liberties with special emphasis on First Amendment rights and rational sex and drug policies. For a complete list of past winners and judges, please visit: