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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: 
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
A recent federal court decision affects how Washington schools must operate their Associated Student Body organizations.
News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009
The Pierce County Council voted unanimously on Aug. 9 to repeal a rule that barred speakers at public meetings from attacking or questioning the motives of council members. The action followed a letter by the ACLU objecting to the policy.
News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009
The city of Seattle and the ACLU have reached a partial settlement of a lawsuit over police disruption of a 2003 march by opponents of police brutality.
News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009
The ACLU of Washington writes to express its concern over a practice of the Yelm City Council governing public comment periods during council meetings. According to recent press reports, the Council will routinely block discussion of topics -- or even particular words, such as "moratorium" -- that the Council does not wish to hear about. This practice frustrates the entire purpose of a public comment period, which is to allow citizens the opportunity to tell their representatives what they care about. The ability of citizens to state their views about matters of public concern is one of the cornerstones of a free and accountable government. Yelm's practice of silencing public comment violates that principle.
News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009
The lawsuit challenges the North Central Regional Library District's use of a strict Internet filter on public computers, and its refusal to temporarily disable the filter for adult users.
News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009
In October 2003 the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the City of Seattle can bar political candidates from mentioning their opponents in the City's voter pamphlet. The decision reversed a trial court ruling that found the ban was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.
News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009
For the second time, Washington's high court invalidated a law that empowered the government to regulate what is said during political campaigns.
News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009
As Seattle neared "N30," the one-year anniversary of the World Trade Organization (WTO) protests on November 30th, free speech advocates held our collective breath in hopes that the City would "get it right" this time by dealing properly with protest activities. Responding to saber-rattling comments by some officials, the ACLU urged the City to respect free speech rights, and we readied our Web site report form to receive complaints of police misconduct.
News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009
An amateur photographer has obtained compensation from the city of Seattle after he was arrested simply for taking photos of police making an arrest.
News Release, Published: 
Friday, November 20, 2009
All student-initiated clubs have the right to speak on campus and circulate leaflets or underground newspapers at school. However, the ACLU believes that no student-initiated club has a legal right to force the school to give official endorsement and money to the group if the school does not wish to sponsor it.

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