Free Speech

“[W]e have little trouble in concluding that the people who framed and adopted Article I, section 8, as part of the original Oregon Constitution intended to prohibit broadly any laws directed at restraining verbal or nonverbal expression of ideas of any kind.”
-- State v. Ciancanelli
(Oregon Supreme Court, 2005)

The framers of the U.S. Constitution believed that the freedom of inquiry and liberty of expression were the hallmarks of a democratic society. The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights provides protections in a number of areas including free speech.

The framers of the Oregon free speech equivalent, often referred to as our free expression provision, were even more protective of our rights.

Historically, at times of national stress, real or imagined free speech rights come under enormous pressure. During the “Red Scare” of the 1920s, thousand were deported for their political views. During the McCarthy period, the infamous blacklist ruined lives and careers. Today, protestors of U.S. government policies are attacked and creators, producers and distributors of popular culture are often blamed for the nation’s deep social problems.

Calls for censorship threaten to erode free speech.

The First Amendment and Oregon’s free expression provision protect popular speech and the most offensive and controversial speech from government suppression. The best way to counter obnoxious speech is with more speech. Persuasion, not coercion, is the solution.

Litigation

Supreme Court Decides Bush Protest Case

prostesters in Jacksonville, OR May 27, 2014 - In a disappointing decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that we cannot sue Secret Service agents for their decision to have peaceful protesters moved blocks away from, and out of earshot of, President George W. Bush during his campaign visit to Jacksonville, Oregon in October, 2004.  Our lawsuit alleged that Secret Service Agents moved our clients further away from the President only because of their vocal criticism of the President’s policies and that action violated the protesters’ constitutional free speech rights. 

The unanimous opinion by Justice Ginsburg stressed that while the Constitution does not allow the Secret Service to treat protesters more harshly because of their viewpoint, the two agents were entitled to qualified immunity and dismissed our claims against them. Much of the Court’s opinion focused on the physical location of the protesters in relation to the President and found a “plausible” security justification for the Secret Service decision to move the protesters. 

"We are disappointed by today’s ruling,” said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “No one disputes that the Secret Service has an overriding interest in protecting the President, but that does not include the right to shield the President from criticism, a critical distinction that the Court unanimously reaffirmed. In our view, the jury should have been allowed to decide whether this case was actually about security or censorship."

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Portland Airport Runs Anti-Clearcut Ad After ACLU Court Victory

Judge had denied Port of Portland’s request to stay decision that Port violated Oregon Constitution when it refused ad because of its content

January 1, 2014 –An anti-clearcutting ad began running at the Portland airport on New Year’s Day following a Multnomah County Circuit Court refusal to issue a stay on its earlier decision that the Port of Portland had violated the free speech rights of a coalition of conservation organizations when it refused to run the ad.

The rulings came in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU Foundation of Oregon which was handled by ACLU volunteer cooperating attorney Tom Christ. The initial Multnomah County Circuit Court ruling on December 13 held that the Port, which manages the airport, had violated the Oregon Constitution’s free expression protections when it rejected the ad because it dealt with a “political” issue.

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Legislation

FREE SPEECH: Enable expansion of municipal "sit-lie" ordinances (HB 2963) (2013)

Seeking to expand the “sit-lie ordinance” in Portland, the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) introduced HB 2963. The bill would have overturned the decision in the 2009 Multnomah County case State v. Perkins where the judge said that the Portland ordinance that regulated when people could be on the sidewalk was preempted by state law and therefore was unconstitutional.

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FREE SPEECH: Disorderly Conduct at a Funeral (SB 1575) (2012)

For years, the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) and founders the Phelps family have picketed outside funerals, holding signs displaying often hateful homophobic messages. HB 3241 was introduced in the 2011 session to target these activities but, at the ACLU’s urging to reject the measure so clearly in violation of both the free expression provision of the Oregon Constitution (Article I, section 8) and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, the bill failed. The concept came back in this short session and, though more limited than it had been before, was still motivated by the desire to respond to the offensive and abhorrent speech activities, albeit religiously motivated speech, of the WBC.

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Other

Your Right to Protest

right to protest shirtYou have a constitutionally protected right to engage in peaceful protest in “traditional public forums” such as streets, sidewalks or parks. But in some cases the government can impose restrictions on this kind of activity by requiring permits. This is constitutional as long as the permit requirements are reasonable, and treat all groups the same no matter what the focus of the rally or protest.

The government cannot impose permit restrictions or deny a permit simply because it does not like the message of a certain speaker or group.

Generally, you have the right to distribute literature, hold signs, collect petition signatures, and engage in other similar activities while on public sidewalks or in front of government buildings as long as you are not disrupting other people, forcing passerby to accept leaflets or causing traffic problems.

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ACLU Launches Police Watch App in Oregon

“Mobile Justice” app allows Oregonians to record video of police encounters, includes guide to rights
November 6,2014 – The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon today announced the release of a smartphone application that will allow users to take video of police encounters and quickly upload the video to the ACLU. It can also send an alert when a police stop is being recorded by another user nearby and provides helpful legal information about interacting with police.

“Police officers have a unique role and position within our society and they are given extraordinary powers,” said David Fidanque, executive director of the ACLU of Oregon. “Oregonians have the right to record video of police in public places as a check to those powers.”

Fidanque said that the app, known as “Mobile Justice,” is also being launched simultaneously by ACLU affiliates in Missouri, Mississippi, and Nebraska.  He said it is intended for use by people witnessing a police encounter, not by individuals who are the subject of a police stop. 

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