Free Speech Issues The ACLU of Rhode Island is Involved With - Court Cases, Legislation, News Releases

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Free Speech

Protecting the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment has always been in the forefront of the ACLU’s mission. The ACLU of Rhode Island was founded over 50 years ago largely in response to widespread government efforts to censor books, films, and theater.  Today, the ACLU routinely defends the right of citizens to exercise their freedom of speech, of the press, of association, and of petition and protest, no matter how unpopular their opinions may be.

Free Speech in the News

  • May, 02, 2017: ACLU Sues Over Selective Enforcement of Cranston Sign Ordinance
  • Mar, 28, 2017: Statement on Ticketing of Protesters By Cranston Police
  • Jan, 18, 2017: Settlement Reached in Lawsuit Against Woonsocket Police for Treatment of Deaf Detainee

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Free Speech Related Court Cases

2017: Hunter v. City of Cranston
Category: Active Case    Due Process    Free Speech    


About This Case:
This is a federal lawsuit against the City of Cranston, challenging its selective enforcement of an ordinance that bars the placement of commercial advertisements on city property. The suit was filed on behalf of attorney Stephen Hunter, who was threatened with fines if he did not take down signs advertising his business that he had posted at various intersections throughout the city – even though there were dozens of other advertising signs posted at the same locations and many hundreds more citywide, which were, and have been, left untouched and not cited.

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in May 2017.

ACLU Cooperating Attorney:
Richard A. Sinapi

Supporting Documents
2016: Alves v. Woonsocket
Category: Civil Rights    Discrimination    Rights of the Disabled    Free Speech    Police Practices    

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed in partnership with the R.I. Disability Law Center on behalf of a profoundly deaf person who was arrested and detained overnight by Woonsocket police for allegedly making an obscene gesture, and who was never provided an interpreter to allow him to communicate with the police during his detention. The case raised important issues regarding municipal agency obligations to accommodate residents who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The lawsuit argued that city officials violated plaintiff David Alves’s “statutory and constitutional rights by unlawfully arresting and detaining him, charging him with violating an unconstitutional City criminal ordinance, subjecting him to discrimination on account of his disability, and failing to accommodate his disability.”

The suit settled favorably in January 2017.

Supporting Documents

Free Speech Related Legislation

Student Free Press (H 5550, S 600)
Category: 2017    Free Speech    Students' Rights    

This spring, the ACLU testified in support of important legislation introduced by Senator Goldin (S 600) and Representative O'Grady (H 5550), which would recognize the importance of encouraging student journalism and guaranteeing to students certain basic rights to freedom of the press.

This bill would reverse an unfortunate U.S. Supreme Court decision that had a chilling effect on student journalism throughout the country. Under this bill, a free and responsible student press would be able to flourish in Rhode Island, as it has in at least nine  other states that have adopted similar laws.

“Revenge Porn”
Category: 2017    Free Speech    

The ACLU testified before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees regarding the Attorney General’s so-called revenge porn legislation (H 5304, S 401), which, we noted in our testimony, required neither revenge nor porn to subject a person to criminal penalties. The legislation would make it a crime to electronically transmit nude or sexually explicit images without the person’s consent. In May, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard the Governor's version of the revenge porn bill (S 765) which addresses some of the basic constitutional concerns of the AG's bill. 

The Media Coalition and the R.I. Press Association also opposed the bill. Publishing some of the photos from Abu Ghraib or, on a less grave note, pictures of Anthony Weiner’s too-exposed body part could be criminal under this bill. That is why Governor Gina Raimondo vetoed this legislation last year and, the ACLU hopes, will veto it again if it is not amended to address the legitimate concerns raised by civil liberties advocates and the media. Nonetheless, in March, the House passed the bill, with only Reps. Edie Ajello and Jason Knight dissenting.

In March, the House passed this legislation and referred it to the Senate Judiciary Committee.