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
- Jan, 18, 2017: Settlement Reached in Lawsuit Against Woonsocket Police for Treatment of Deaf Detainee
- Jan, 09, 2017: ACLU Statement on Detention for Students for Walk-out Over School Practices
- Jan, 04, 2017: Ban On Unsolicited Newspaper Deliveries Put on Hold
Free Speech Related Court Cases
2015: Monteiro V. City of Cranston
- Category: Free Speech
The ACLU of Rhode Island today has federal lawsuit on behalf of a disabled person summoned to court and threatened with arrest for holding a handwritten sign seeking donations as he stood on the median of a Cranston roadway. The suit, against the City of Cranston, argues that a city ordinance barring the solicitation of donations from motorists violates free speech rights. In addition to being unconstitutional, ordinances like these are selectively enforced against, and further criminalize, the poor and homeless.
The ACLU expects this lawsuit to be the first of a series of suits addressing municipal ordinances that criminalize poverty and homelessness.
2015: Pombo v. City of Providence
- Category: Active Case Free Speech
1/6/16 BREAKING: The ACLU of Rhode Island settled this First Amendment lawsuit today. As a result of the settlement, the City of Providence can no longer order Pombo to stop performing on public property or require him to obtain a permit to perform on public property absent violation of any other valid ordinances. The settlement agreement further stipulates that “because soliciting donations is protected speech under the First Amendment,” the City cannot stop Pombo from soliciting or accepting donations for his performances. The City also agreed to pay compensatory damages.
This lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court by ACLU/RI volunteer attorneys Shannah Kurland and John W. Dineen, is on behalf of Manuel Pombo, a 62-year-old local street musician (or “busker”) who has been arrested once, and threatened with arrest on numerous other occasions, for playing his saxophone on sidewalks and street corners in Providence. The license not only prohibits him from soliciting donations for his performances, it allows him to perform solely at the unbridled discretion of police officers. This is the third time in five years the ACLU of Rhode Island has sued the City of Providence for interfering with the exercise of free speech rights on the City’s streets and sidewalks.
When the suit was filed Mr. Pombo said: "I love to play the saxophone and I know that it has brought joy to many people. But I now live in constant fear of being arrested for playing my music, and it takes a physical toll on me. This is not the way a city that claims to be arts-friendly should treat anybody.”
Free Speech Related Legislation
“Revenge Porn” (H 5304)
- Category: 2017 Free Speech
In February, the ACLU testified before the House Judiciary Committee regarding the Attorney General’s so-called revenge porn legislation (H 5304), 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. 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. In the beginning of March, the House Judiciary Committee recommended the bill for passage and placed it on the House Floor Calendar.