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RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) today announced the successful resolution of a federal lawsuit filed in February, 2009, on behalf of Victor L. Martin, a critically acclaimed author currently incarcerated in the custody of the North Carolina Department of Correction (“DOC”). Mr. Martin has published a series of books in an emerging and popular literary genre known as “urban fiction.” Authors within the urban fiction genre are often younger African-Americans who describe urban settings in ways that readers – many of whom have never read books before – can identify with and understand. Many readers and reviewers have recognized Mr. Martin as an important voice within urban fiction. This lawsuit arose from efforts on the part of the defendants to silence Mr. Martin’s voice.

The lawsuit named as defendants certain officials of the North Carolina Department of Correction, alleging that these individuals violated Mr. Martin’s free speech rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, by arbitrarily and capriciously disciplining Mr. Martin for writing urban fiction during his incarceration. In addition, the lawsuit alleged that the defendants unlawfully seized and destroyed the only copy of a 310-page, handwritten urban fiction manuscript that Mr. Martin spent countless hours writing while housed at Central Prison in Raleigh. The lawsuit further alleged that the defendants did so as punishment for Mr. Martin’s acts of literary expression without providing Mr. Martin with due process before the manuscript was destroyed.

Swain Wood, a noted First Amendment and copyright lawyer in Raleigh who is representing Mr. Martin along with ACLU-NCLF on the case, said “Writing books is not a crime. The First Amendment guarantees that. After being put in prison, Victor Martin discovered that writing books could transform his life for the better and inspire others. He should be commended for that. State officials should be commended for realizing that punishing Mr. Martin for writing books was wrong, and that the old policy was unconstitutional and had to be changed.”

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RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) filed a lawsuit against the Town of Cary today in the federal district court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, challenging the Town’s assessment of fines against Cary homeowner David Bowden for a political protest sign that he had painted on the front of his house. In July 2009, Mr. Bowden hired someone to paint “Screwed By The Town of Cary” on the front of his house because he was angry about the way he had been treated by the Town regarding damage done to his property during a road-widening project. The Town is now threatening to fine Mr. Bowden hundreds of dollars per day if he does not remove this sign from his house. In its complaint, the ACLU-NCLF alleges that these threats violate Mr. Bowden’s rights to free speech and to petition his government under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and similar provisions of the North Carolina Constitution.

“I tried to negotiate with the Town in a gentlemanly way, and it didn’t get me anywhere,” said Mr. Bowden. “I decided that the only way that I was going to get any attention was to put up a sign. Now the Town is trying to violate my civil rights by telling me that I can’t speak to power.”

The lawsuit asks the Court to declare the Cary sign ordinance unconstitutional and to issue a temporary restraining order and an injunction against the Town, preventing the ordinance from being enforced against Mr. Bowden.

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WILKES COUNTY – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) today announced the successful resolution of a four-year battle between Boomer resident and peace activist Sally Ferrell and the Wilkes County Board of Education regarding Ms. Ferrell’s constitutional right to free speech in the Wilkes County high schools. Beginning in March 2005, Ms. Ferrell had sought permission from the school district to distribute information to high school students regarding alternatives to military service on the same basis and to the same extent as military recruiters were being allowed access to students for purposes of recruiting. Military recruiters had been granted access to students in Wilkes County high schools for some time, but the Superintendent and members of the Wilkes County School Board repeatedly refused Ms. Ferrell’s request to distribute literature and to speak with students. The ACLU-NCLF intervened on Ms. Ferrell’s behalf, and for a short time, the school district allowed her to provide information to the students as a representative of N.C. Peace Action. Students reported that they were pleased to receive the information from Ms. Ferrell and N.C. Peace Action about opportunities with Job Corps and AmeriCorps and expressed appreciation that different points of view were allowed to be expressed. Nevertheless, the Superintendent soon rescinded her access to the schools, and the ACLU-NCLF filed a lawsuit in Wilkes County Superior Court on January 5, 2009.

The parties met on Tuesday, August 11, 2009, and agreed to a settlement that would permit Ms. Ferrell and N.C. Peace Action to have access to Wilkes County high school students on the same terms and under the same conditions as military recruiters have, which is exactly what Ms. Ferrell has been seeking for more than four years. If the school district honors its end of the agreement, then the lawsuit will be dismissed.

“I explained to the Superintendent that my approach was not anti-military; nevertheless, I was continually denied access to speak with students in our local high schools who were being aggressively recruited by the military,” said Sally Ferrell. “I am glad the schools have finally recognized N.C. Peace Action’s First Amendment right to express our viewpoint, and I look forward to providing truthful, job-related information about military careers – and alternatives to careers in the military – in all Wilkes County high schools.”

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In September, 2008, the Appalachian State University (“ASU”) administration informed student groups of its new policy regarding the licensing of university-owned trademarks. Although the specific terms of the policy are unclear, the policy appears to prohibit any non-pre-approved use, whether commercial or non-commercial, of any term related to ASU. ASU does own several federally registered and state-registered trademarks, but the policy appears to extend to any term that “refers to” ASU, not just those in which it has a legally-recognized trademark interest. The ACLU Student Chapter of ASU disputed the university’s licensing policy as vague and overreaching after ASU required pre-approval for several different t-shirts. The ACLU student chapter cited potential implications of students’ First Amendment right to free speech. ASU’s administration declined to modify the policy, stating that the university had a right (and indeed a legal obligation) to police all uses of its trademarks, regardless of the purpose or character of the use. Of those marks that ASU is entitled to protect, its licensing scheme appears to lack both clear criteria for approving or denying applications and a speedy approval or denial process, likely rendering it an unconstitutional prior restraint under the First Amendment. On May 28, 2009, we sent a letter to ASU’s attorney, asking ASU to modify its trademark policy to conform with the law. On June 19, 2009, we received correspondence from ASU’s counsel, informing us that ASU agreed to revise its policy to protect the First Amendment rights of students. We continue to monitor this situation to ensure that the policy is being applied in a constitutional manner.