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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: 
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Like publishing ideas in books or newspapers, demonstrating in the streets has been one of the fundamental outlets for speech throughout our nation’s history.  The Supreme Court has long held that speech gets maximum protection in certain kinds of public places, like parks, sidewalks, and streets.  People with soapboxes need somewhere to put them, after all. In these public places, speech may be limited only for narrow and very specific reasons.  States are allowed, for example, to prohibit demonstrators from blocking access to buildings like hospitals or fire stations.  We allow the government to make and enforce laws designed to keep those vital public services operating, even when it might limit people’s right to demonstrate in certain areas.  Courts call these “time, place, and manner restrictions,” and as long as they meet certain criteria, they’re constitutional. Read more
News Release, Published: 
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
The response of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to anti-war demonstrations on March 22, 2003, provides one more reminder of the City's need to have in place sensible crowd control policies for major events.
News Release, Published: 
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
A Q&A about walkouts, policy regarding absences, and other student political speech at public schools.
News Release, Published: 
Monday, January 11, 2010
A brief overview of teachers' free speech rights.
News Release, Published: 
Monday, January 11, 2010
The ACLU of Washington urges President Stephen M. Jordan to reconsider the decision to cancel the scheduled April 5 campus appearance of guest speaker Ward Churchill due to concerns over security. Canceling the appearance makes Eastern Washington University complicit in a "heckler's veto," where any group of protesters that is big enough or violent enough can silence their outnumbered opponents.
News Release, Published: 
Monday, January 11, 2010
Background on the effect of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) on public computer access at libraries.
News Release, Published: 
Monday, January 11, 2010
As an organization dedicated to fostering free speech, the open exchange of ideas, and access to information, the American Civil Liberties Union urges you to consider closely the ways in which the merger of AT&T and Comcast could limit these liberties. There is a danger that if cable becomes the dominant provider of Internet connections, the Internet will come under the private control of companies that are unrestrained by competition or regulation.
News Release, Published: 
Monday, January 11, 2010
On Oct.23, 2008, U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle ruled that to retry Lt. Watada for court martial on three of the counts would violate his constitutional protect against being tried twice for the same crime; included was the count of attending a press conference. The judge also ruled that it would be up to a military court to determine whether Lt. Watada could be retried on two other counts involving alleged conduct unbecoming an officer.
News Release, Published: 
Friday, January 8, 2010
Anti-war activists are pursuing a lawsuit challenging police actions that violated their rights at demonstrations at the Port of Tacoma: unlawful arrests, unconstitutional restrictions, unreasonable force, and unauthorized surveillance, all designed to discourage and prevent peaceful protest.
News Release, Published: 
Friday, January 8, 2010
In response to an ACLU of Washington lawsuit, the Puyallup City Council amended its solicitation ordinance to protect the rights of a religious organization to spread its message. The ACLU had filed suit on behalf of United States Mission challenging city restrictions that prevented the organization from carrying out its mission of preaching the "Social Gospel."

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