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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

News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

Students in Bellingham can continue distributing at school the alternative newspaper they produce thanks to help from the ACLU.

News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009
News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

Seeking to uphold union democracy, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and Public Citizen today filed a lawsuit backing the free speech rights of a union member running for office. The suit was filed on behalf of Joseph Hughes to secure his right to speak with fellow members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

A settlement between student Nick Emmett and Kent School District has ended the district’s attempt to punish the student because of a Web site created on his home computer. Under terms of the settlement negotiated by the ACLU, the suburban Seattle district will not pursue disciplinary action against Emmett over the Web site and will pay his attorney fees.

News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009
In a victory for free speech rights, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the City of Seattle's ordinance for granting permits for parades and marches gives police too much discretion to revoke or alter permits.
News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

Seeking to protect free speech rights on Seattle streets, the American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle challenging the City of Seattle’s Parade and Special Events Ordinances. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the October 22 Coalition, a protest group officially granted a parade permit by the City who was nonetheless barred by the Seattle Police Department from marching on the street. The ACLU says Seattle’s regulations are confusing, burdensome, and so vague that they wrongly give police unfettered discretion to alter or revoke parade permits.

News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

A former high school student who was suspended for creating a parody on the Internet is getting damages from the school district that wrongfully punished him.

News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

In a victory for prisoner rights, a federal appeals court has found that corrections officials cannot prevent inmates from receiving bulk mail sent at nonprofit postal rates.

News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

In the latest ACLU case backing student rights in cyberspace, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee today ruled that public school officials cannot punish a student for free speech outside of school.

News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Justice (CFJ) have reached an agreement with the Spokane Transit Authority to protect freedom of speech at the Plaza in downtown Spokane. The agreement settles a lawsuit challenging restrictions on free speech at Plaza sidewalks that the groups filed on behalf of Donald Ausderau, a Christian minister, and the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Spokane in June 2003.

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