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

  • Aug, 18, 2020: ACLU of RI Sues on Behalf of Black Recruit Drummed Out of the Providence Police Academy
  • Aug, 10, 2020: Groups Respond to GOP Appeal of Mail Ballot Case to U.S. Supreme Court
  • Aug, 07, 2020: Appeals Court Affirms Suspending Voting Requirement that Risks the Health of Voters

View All Free Speech Related News Releases »

Free Speech Related Court Cases

2020: Blanchette v. Narragansett
Category: Active Case    Criminal Justice    Free Speech    Police Practices    Students' Rights    Youth Rights    

About this Case:
This is a lawsuit in federal court seeking monetary damages on behalf of a former Narragansett High School student with special education needs who was thrown to the ground, choked and falsely arrested by a school resource officer (SRO). A video of the incident is available here.

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in May 2020.

ACLU of RI Cooperating Attorney:
Amato A. DeLuca

Supporting Documents
2020: Hanson et. al. v. RIDLT
Category: Active Case    Discrimination    Rights of the Poor    Due Process    Right to Petition & Protest    Workplace Rights    

About this Case:
This is a class-action lawsuit challenging the RI Department of Labor and Training’s (DLT) actions in summarily freezing unemployment insurance payments to hundreds of Rhode Islanders without notice or explanation.

Current Status:
DLT has agreed to take interim action to address the issue.  Press release below for more information.

ACLU of RI Cooperating Attorneys:
Ellen Saideman; Lynette Labinger

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.