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


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years


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 60 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

  • Mar, 19, 2020: ACLU Takes Legal Action on Behalf of African-American Recruit Drummed Out of PVD Police Academy
  • Mar, 12, 2020: ACLU Sues DMV Over Ability to Censor “Offensive” Vanity Plates
  • Oct, 31, 2019: Barrington Sues Student for Challenging Unlawful School Suspension; Seeks Award of Fees

View All Free Speech Related News Releases »

Free Speech Related Court Cases

2020: Clark v. Providence Police Department
Category: Active Case    Discrimination    Racial/Ethnic Discrimination    Due Process    Free Speech    

About this Case:
This is a charge of race discrimination against the Providence Police Department and a formal claim for damages with the City of Providence.  The damages claim is a legal prerequisite to the filing of a lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiff, Michael Clark, an African-American recruit who was dismissed from the Police Academy after enduring months of harassment from trainers.

Current Status:
Discrimination charge and damages claim both filed in March 2020.

Cooperating Attorney:
Laura Harrington

Supporting Documents
2020: Carroll v. Craddock
Category: Active Case    Free Speech    Right to Petition & Protest    

About this Case:
This is a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state law that gives the DMV Administrator carte blanche authority to deny vanity license plates based on whether he thinks they “might carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency.”

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in March 2020.

Cooperating Attorneys:
Thomas W. Lyons; Rhiannon Huffman

Supporting Documents

Free Speech Related Legislation

Ban on Masks (H 7543) Held for Further Study
Category: 2020    Free Speech    

Opposed by the ACLU, H 7543 would make it a crime for a person to, during a parade, demonstration, or rally, wear a gas mask, wear protective clothing or equipment designed to prevent a person from injury, or wear any mask at all with the “intent to intimidate another person.” This bill raises serious First Amendment issues in its attempt to allow the government to decide whether a mask in lawful free speech exercises is “intimidating” or not and is especially concerning in its ban on the use of protective clothing.

Child Erotica (H 7737) Held for Further Study
Category: 2020    Free Speech    

Although child pornography is a scourge, we opposed a piece of legislation, H 7737, that would carve out a new exception to the First Amendment criminalizing the possession or display of vaguely defined “child erotica” when used for the “specific purpose of sexual gratification  . . . from viewing the visual portrayals.” The distribution or display of constitutionally protected conduct cannot be elevated to a criminal offense solely because of how the person viewing it reacts, yet this bill would unconstitutionally subject individuals to punishment based on a prediction of how they respond to certain types of protected speech.