Thursday, July 14, 2016

ACLU of Georgia: Freedom of Speech and Expression

This is the second in a series of posts about the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia Records, which were processed in 2015 and are now open for research. These records document the ACLU of Georgia's litigation, lobbying, and public education efforts to protect civil liberties for all Georgians. Their work, which began in 1963, involves issues such as freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, due process of law, and opposing discrimination against many groups. This series of posts was written by Shaniqua Singleton, a student at the UGA School of Law, who was instrumental in processing these papers.

Sticker from the ACLU's "Keep America Safe and Free"
campaign to defend individual freedom in the wake of
September 11 and arguments related to national
security, 2002. Source: Series I, Box 8, Folder 48.
In an election year it is not uncommon to hear candidates discuss issues like gun control, foreign policy, and taxation. However, this election year has had a distinct flavor about it: increasingly, the conversation has focused not on social and fiscal policy, but rather on the free speech rights of candidates and the individuals who attend their events. For several years, the ACLU of Georgia has worked to shape case law and legislation that aims to protect the First Amendment rights of all segments of our population, even when that speech is unpopular or inflammatory.

For example, the ACLU of Georgia’s records contain a number of issue files and legislative efforts to protect free speech rights. The ACLU was heavily involved in a legislative campaign and case (Maher v. Avondale Estates) challenging a DeKalb County ban on political signs in residential areas. Researchers will find legal documents highlighting the ACLU’s constitutional challenge to this ordinance, as well as newspaper articles covering the litigation and legislative efforts to combat laws of this nature. Similarly, the ACLU has been involved in efforts to protect whistleblowers from SLAPP lawsuits (Atlanta Humane Society v. Harkins), the free speech rights of the KKK, free speech rights at university's (Schmitt v. Fort Valley State - 2002-2006), and defending the rights of students to wear confederate flags (Schingler v. Seminole County School District).

Flyer for a training program for demonstrators,
undated. Source: Series I, Box 8, Folder 50.
Each of these cases reflects the ACLU’s position that freedom of speech should be protected at all costs, lest unpopular speech and artistic or personal expression be at risk of suppression. Researchers interested in learning more about the ACLU’s position in both of these matters will find many articles and court documents regarding legal and legislative challenges to attempts to curtail free speech.

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