Free Speech Icon

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, 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.
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  
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.
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.
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.