The National Coalition Against Censorship today announced that Lee Rowland, policy director at the New York Civil Liberties Union, will become its new executive director, effective September 11, 2023. Rowland will replace Christopher Finan, who is set to retire.

Rowland brings considerable experience as a litigator, lobbyist, and public speaker to her new role at the NCAC, which represents some 59 national nonprofit organizations, including publishers and other literary, artistic, religious, educational, professional, labor, and civil liberties groups in defending freedom of expression. Rowland has served for more than a decade as a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, the Brennan Center for Justice, and as a policy director the New York Civil Liberties Union. She has also served as lead counsel in a number of federal First Amendment cases (including representing several NCAC Partner organizations) and is also a prolific author of amicus briefs and articles in defense of free speech.

“The NCAC board of directors feels very fortunate to have found such an experienced and talented defender of free expression,” NCAC chair Emily Knox said, in a statement. Her decades of work as a civil libertarian make her the right person to lead NCAC as it confronts the book banning crisis and the many other difficult challenges to free expression.”

Rowland's appointment follows a nationwide search to replace the retiring Finan, who will step down after a lifetime spent passionately defending free speech and the freedom to read. Before joining NCAC in 2017, Finan served as president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and executive director of Media Coalition, a trade association that defends the free speech rights of producers and distributors.

In an interview with PW, Rowland praised Finan for his long career battling censorship. "I've had the unique opportunity to know Chris personally and professionally for years," Rowland said. "I've seen up close how Chris is a stalwart advocate against censorship and I know well how he has defended free expression during his time at NCAC. I'm looking forward to giving my best effort to fill his formidable shoes."

Rowland joins the NCAC at a critical moment, in the midst of an unprecedented wave of book bans and legislative attacks on the freedom to read, as well as complex challenges to free speech online and on campus.

Rowland acknowledged to PW that she is taking the reins at NCAC in a "supercharged" censorship environment.

"I do think it has become all too common for people to fight their culture war issues by arguing that their opponents should be muzzled," Rowland told PW. "But we need robust free expression rights in practice. We need to be free from censorship. And I'm really excited to take on this role because I think NCAC is uniquely positioned to be a first responder to censorship crises, to help find ways to make sure people aren't muzzled, and aren't feeling such immense pressure to censor."