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Free Speech

The right to express yourself regardless of the popularity your views is basic to a democratic society. Throughout its history, the ACLU has met challenges from officials who cite reasons old and new to restrict this right. We recognize that if one person can be silenced, all of us are at risk.

This guide covers the legal protections you have while protesting or otherwise exercising your free speech rights in public places. Although some of the legal principles are firmly established, as with many areas of law, free speech law is complex and continually developing. 

Topic Resources

Tuesday, June 24, 2014
In June of 2013, NSA contractor Edward Snowden famously leaked knowledge of systematic government spying to journalist Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian. Over the next year, Greenwald assembled his insights about government spying and Snowden into a book titled No Place to Hide. On a book tour, he recently spoke to a packed house at Seattle’s Town Hall.
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Monday, May 12, 2014

Today, the ACLU of Washington (ACLU) and Columbia Legal Services (CLS) voluntarily dismissed their lawsuit after successfully getting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release hunger striking detainees from solitary confinement at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington.  The ACLU and CLS had filed this lawsuit on April 2, 2014 to prohibit ICE from retaliating against detainees at the NWDC who engage in First Amendment protected activities by placing them in solitary confinement.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014
A man whom Sunnyside police arrested for videotaping a SWAT team has received an $8,000 settlement, reports the Yakima Herald-Republic. After the man posted a videotape of his arrest on YouTube, police requested the charges be dropped and the man sued for the violation of his rights.
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Friday, April 4, 2014

Federal immigration authorities have released hunger strikers from solitary confinement at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. The action came after the ACLU-WA and Columbia Legal Services sued U.S. Immigration and Enforcement for retaliating against hunger strikers. 

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

The ACLU-WA and Columbia Legal Services are seeking a court order to prohibit federal immigration authorities from punishing  hunger strikers by confining them isolation cells at the NW Detention Center. 

Friday, December 20, 2013
The ACLU of Washington recently succeeded in advocacy that reaffirmed The Militant’s First Amendment right to inform and share its opinions with incarcerated individuals.
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Friday, March 8, 2013

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear oral argument in a lawsuit to uphold Working Washington’s free speech rights on light rail trains. The case will is being heard today, Friday, March 8 at the U.S. Courthouse in Seattle (1010 Fifth Ave., 7th floor). The ACLU of Washington is representing Working Washington in the suit.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

January 23 - Update:  The jury today reached a verdict and ruled in favor of the City of Tacoma.  No decision has been made yet as to whether to appeal the case.

Suit Says Police Actions Aimed to Prevent Peaceful Protest

The ACLU-WA is representing six citizens who are suing over violations of their rights to free speech and assembly by police at anti-war demonstrations at the Port of Tacoma. A jury trial in the case began in federal district court in Tacoma on January 7.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

A veterans group which has marched in Auburn’s Veterans Day Parade for the past six years is suing to march in this year’s parade. The group says that the city of Auburn officials are violating free speech rights by unfairly denying its application to march in the civic celebration.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012
A vibrant democratic society prizes freedom of speech. Its government does not try to protect the public from messages that some people find offensive or disturbing. President Obama asserted this principle before the United Nations General Assembly saying, "…in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities.”