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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

Monday, October 17, 2011
Public photography regrettably has become a suspect activity in the minds of some officials. Back in 2007, the ACLU-WA successfully advocated for a man whom Seattle police arrested for taking photos of police making an arrest near 2nd & Pike downtown.
News Release, Published: 
Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An ACLU lawsuit defending the rights of adults to access information on the Internet on public library computers will continue in federal court in the wake of today’s Washington Supreme Court 6-3 ruling rejecting claims under the Washington State Constitution. The suit challenges a filtering policy that hampers adults in researching school assignments, locating businesses and organizations, and doing personal reading on lawful subjects.

Monday, October 10, 2011
Over the weekened, I had the opportunity to attend the first ever GeekGirlCon. Over two days, the con covered video games, movies, geeky parenting, blogging, vlogging, puppet making, gaming, music and of course, costumes.
Friday, September 30, 2011
As we mark Banned Books Week, it’s important to keep in mind that censorship efforts can come from all across the political spectrum. A case in point comes from the 1990s and was sparked by a complaint from someone concerned about preventing rape.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Publicola, the ever-informative local news site, has posted a report that provides new perspective on King County’s decision last December to cancel a contract to run ads on Metro buses that sharply criticize Israeli government actions.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Candidates for elected office in Seattle now will be able to discuss their opponents in statements published in the pamphlet that voters receive in election season.  The ACLU-WA began working for this common-sense policy change a decade ago.
Monday, June 27, 2011
This month, the Richland School Board voted 3 to 2 to exclude Sherman Alexie’s award-winning book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian from Richland high school classrooms. Alexie’s semiautobiographical novel won the National Book Award for young adults in 2007. It tells the story of Arnold “Junior” Spirit, a teenager growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington, where Alexie also grew up. Junior struggles as an awkward but bright 14-year-old who loves drawing comics. The book tackles many tough issues, including racism, alcoholism, poverty, death, as well as more typical teenage struggles like fitting in. The book was piloted for Richland’s ninth-grade language arts curriculum because of its realistic portrayal of the high school experience and compelling theme of perseverance. The piloting teacher acknowledged that the book contains some profanity and sexual references.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
For those of you who took last week’s pop quiz on street speech, you will be glad to know that some area police officers also are brushing up on free speech rights of people on sidewalks and in public plazas.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Earlier this week, we wrote about the fact that some Washington state farmers markets have policies or practices that limit free speech activities, such as petition signature gathering and handing out political material.   We asked you to sign a petition to the statewide organization asking them to protect the free speech rights of all market-goers.  And over 800 ACLU-WA supporters responded! Thanks to their efforts, the Washington State Farmers Market Association has heard the concerns and is eager to make changes.  We will work with the Association to help them develop educational materials, model policies, and guidelines for market organizers across the state.  Thanks to all of you who responded, and thanks to the Washington State Farmers Market Association for recognizing the importance of free speech in our public spaces!
Monday, April 11, 2011
University of Washington Law School prof Ronald Collins and coauthor Sam Chaltain have come out with a new book of interest to anyone who cares about freedom of speech. We Must Not Afraid to Be Free: Stories of Free Expression in America (Oxford U. Press) explore some of the challenging issues and colorful individuals involved in important controversies over what free speech means in America.