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

  • Oct, 11, 2017: ACLU Sues Johnston Police Department for Violating First Amendment Rights of Former Detective
  • Sep, 07, 2017: ACLU Asks Court to Reject State’s Claim that Inmates Serving Life Cannot Challenge Rights Violations
  • Aug, 16, 2017: Judge Dismisses Charges Against Narragansett Residents Under Unconstitutional Housing Ordinance

View All Free Speech Related News Releases »

Free Speech Related Court Cases

2017: Brady v. Tamburini
Category: Active Case    Fair Administration of Justice    Free Speech    Open Government    Police Practices    Workplace Rights    

About This Case:
This is a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the Johnston Police Department on behalf of retired Detective James Brady, an 18-year veteran of the force.  The suit argues that Johnston Police Chief Richard Tamburini violated Brady’s free speech rights by disciplining him after he spoke to the news media about a matter of public concern.

Current Status:
Suit filed in October 2017.

ACLU Cooperating Attorney:
John W. Dineen

Supporting Documents
2017: RIHAP v. Cranston
Category: Active Case    Discrimination    Rights of the Poor    Free Speech    


About This Case:
This is a federal lawsuit against the City of Cranston over an anti-panhandling ordinance enacted by the City Council in 2017.  The suit was filed on behalf of Francis White, Jr., who is disabled and formerly homeless, as well as the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project (RIHAP) and two Cranston residents – Karen Rosenberg and Deborah Flitman.  The suit argues that the ordinance violates the First Amendment right of individuals to solicit donations and distribute literature on Cranston roadways.   In April 2016, the ACLU favorably settled a lawsuit against Cranston over a similar ordinance that barred the solicitation of donations from motorists. In that settlement, the City acknowledged that the ordinance violated the First Amendment and halted its enforcement. The 2017 ordinance makes several cosmetic revisions to the original in an attempt to pass constitutional muster.

Current Status:
In August 2017, Judge William Smith issued a temporary restraining order halting enforcement of the ordinance.

ACLU Cooperating Attorney:
Lynette Labinger

Supporting Documents

Free Speech Related Legislation

Student Free Press (H 5550, S 600) PASSED
Category: 2017    Free Speech    

This spring, the ACLU testified in support of important legislation introduced by Senator Gayle Goldin (S 600) and Representative Jeremiah 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 12 other states that have adopted similar laws.

On the last day of the General Assembly session, both the House and the Senate passed this legislation. Governor Raimondo signed it into law during the month of July.

“Revenge Porn” (H 5304, S 401, S 765) DIED
Category: 2017    Free Speech    

This misnomered legislation from the Attorney General would make it a crime to electronically transmit nude or sexually explicit images without the person’s consent, regardless of the sender’s intent. The Media Coalition, the RI Press Association, and the ACLU opposed the bill since it could criminalize publishing, among other newsworthy items, some of the photos from Abu Ghraib. In 2016 Governor Raimondo vetoed the legislation on constitutional grounds, but this year supported the bill with some minor revisions that failed to address the ACLU’s First Amendment concerns.

In March, the House passed this legislation and referred it to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Fortunately, the bill died in the Senate after passing the House.