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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

Published: 
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Working in my office in downtown Seattle last Wednesday afternoon, I was pleased to hear the sounds of chanting and looked out to see people peacefully marching down the street holding signs. As spring inches its way to Seattle, I hope we will see more of the same, with people bringing their varied messages to the streets, sidewalks, parks, and squares all around our city.
News Release, Published: 
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The final settlement of a lawsuit in which the ACLU intervened will protect the privacy of what customers read, view, and listen to via their purchases on Amazon.com.

 

News Release, Published: 
Friday, February 4, 2011

The ACLU-WA is co-sponsoring a new competition for mobile application developers to address privacy concerns surrounding mobile phones and other portable devices. The Develop for Privacy Challenge aims to show that privacy should be a fundamental building block in new technologies, not just an afterthought.

Published: 
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Being married to a Jewish man and having spent many hours at synagogue, I have heard directly from people who are passionate and fearful about political attacks on Israel. And I recall with deep sadness the deadly attack in Seattle at Jewish Federation in 2006.  I keep these perspectives in mind as the ACLU-WA challenges King County's refusal to honor its contract to place on Metro buses paid ads that are sharply critical of Israeli government actions toward Palestinians.
Published: 
Friday, November 5, 2010
Recently, a troubling trend in correctional facilities around the country has shown up in two Washington State jails.  Inmates, already a population isolated from their respective communities, are now being restricted in their communications with their own friends and families.  Spokane County Jail and Yakima County Jail are only allowing their inmates to send out and to receive postcards.  These policies prohibit inmates from sending or receiving letters, pictures, limiting contact with loved ones if it takes more than a few sentences to express themselves.  The same is true for families writing the inmate, restricting their right to freedom of speech. Read more
News Release, Published: 
Thursday, October 14, 2010

In a victory for privacy and free speech on the Internet, a federal court emphasized  that government officials cannot watch over our shoulders to see what we are buying and reading.

Published: 
Thursday, August 26, 2010
The ACLU-WA has been working for 75 years to protect the free speech rights of Washingtonians. But it’s not every day that one of our cases becomes the subject of a Hollywood movie with a famous director and real [reel?] movie stars!  The movie is called Grassroots, and it is being filmed all over Seattle this summer. According to the web site, here’s how the story begins: “A short-tempered, unemployed music critic who likes to dress as a polar bear thinks he can harness the power of the people to ride the monorail to political victory in Seattle. And he’s right. Almost.”  The man in the polar bear costume (Grant Cogswell) takes his free speech rights seriously. He decided to run for Seattle City Council in 2001 but found himself banned from criticizing his opponent (Richard McIver) in the city voter’s guide. Read more
Published: 
Friday, August 20, 2010
Washington’s constitution defines education as the “paramount duty” of the state and makes education a fundamental constitutional right. Public schools are one of the largest and most important parts of government, and at some point public education directly affects the life of almost everyone in America. The ACLU works to protect student rights in the courts and in the state legislature. But the most valuable thing the ACLU does to help preserve and extend the rights of youth, though, is educating students and families about rights they may not even realize they have. Read more
Published: 
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
A feature story in the Washington Post this week highlighted what has become a nationwide problem since 9/11: police and security officers interfering with the rights of people to take photographs. As the Post put it, “Almost nine years after the terrorist attacks, which ratcheted up security at government properties and transportation hubs, anyone photographing federal buildings, bridges, trains or airports runs the risk of being seen as a potential terrorist.” Read more
Published: 
Thursday, July 22, 2010
This week, the Seattle Times is running a Washington Post expose on the vast American intelligence bureaucracy. Called Top Secret America, the series delves deep into the underbelly of the intelligence world and exposes a runaway freight train that costs a pretty penny and does little to keep us safe. Of particular significance to ACLU-ers, the series documents official frustration with data overload, notes the high cost and low efficacy of the expanding network of programs and agencies, and highlights concerns with the increasing role of private intelligence contractors. Those familiar with our work on surveillance and privacy will recognize these issues as common refrains.

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