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Free Speech


Nebraska School Activities Association Must Respect Student Speech

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ACLU responds to censoring of student speech

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 2, 2014
CONTACT: Tyler Richard, (402) 476-8091 x104, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN – Today the ACLU of Nebraska informed the Nebraska School Activities Association that they must respect the free speech rights of students. Michael Barth, a student in Gordon, won the Class C1 poetry division at the NSAA competition in Kearney last weekend. The ACLU has learned that NSAA deemed the content of the speech to be inappropriate and controversial. In a letter sent today, the NSAA was informed that they are violating the free speech rights of the student. The ACLU asserts that the NSAA's policy on student speech is unconstitutionally vague and that censoring this particular speech on any grounds is unconstitutional.

The NSAA's policy instructs school officials to censor free speech so it does not "offend the moral standards of the community."

Statement from Amy Miller, Legal Director

There is no question here. Michael Barth and other Nebraska students have free speech rights and the Nebraska School Activities Association cannot disregard one of our most sacred values. We have informed the NSAA that they are obligated by our constitution to allow students to present speeches without censorship. The NSAA does not get to determine what will "offend...moral standards" and certainly does not have the ability to use that as grounds for altering a speech.

Claiming that this particular speech advances a political agenda is particularly troubling. The lives of gay and transgender people should be able to be discussed without being labeled as a political agenda. If we receive complaints from students, including Michael Barth, that have been impacted by the NSAA's unconstitutional policy, we will consider legal action to ensure the NSAA respects free speech of students.

We hope that the NSAA will allow Michael Barth to present his speech as he intended and abandon their unconstitutional policy that limits free speech.

 

For a copy of the letter: http://www.aclunebraska.org/images/attachments/196_NSAA%20free%20speech%20letter.pdf

Attachments:
Download this file (NSAA free speech letter.pdf)NSAA free speech letter.pdf[ ]389 Kb
 

ACLU: City of Creighton Must Allow Political Speech

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City warned against continuing to harass and threaten resident

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 18, 2013
CONTACT: Tyler Richard, (402) 476-8091 x104, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN – The ACLU of Nebraska yesterday warned the City of Creighton that it cannot force a resident to cease political speech nor can it determine the content that appears in a newspaper. The warning was sent to City Attorney Andrew Marshall on behalf of Mike Nutting who alleges the city has violated his First Amendment rights.

According to the warning letter Mike Nutting has been harassed by the city for his letters to the local paper criticizing City Council actions. According to Nutting, he wrote a letter to the Creighton News in October of 2013 which questioned City Council decisions. On November 14, 2013 the City Council ordered Nutting to cease and desist and demanded that Nutting write an apology which would need approval from the city attorney. After writing another letter to the editor in December 2013, the City Council held an executive session to consider litigation against Nutting.

The ACLU indicated that if the city were to press charges, they would defend Nutting.
"The right to criticize the government is a cornerstone of American democracy," said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. "The Creighton City Council has reached back to the history books and found the type of tyranny our constitution was designed to prevent. The role of government should not be to censor, particularly when it comes to political speech."

Nutting, a retired real estate investor, has a long history of community service. In addition to teaching classes on real estate and property management, he has served on the boards for Habitat for Humanity and other groups, administered group homes for those recovering from alcohol addiction, and served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children who have been abused or neglected and are in the court system.

"I know this is about freedom of speech," said Nutting, "but it is also about participation in government. I want an open government that shares what it is doing. My neighbors currently don't want to get involved with politics. You should be proud to serve and proud of what you have accomplished. The Creighton City Council is not just censoring me, but discouraging anyone from speaking up and being involved."

Joel Donahue, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Nebraska writes in the letter, "Our nation was founded in part on the principals of open debate and the right of citizens to publicly disagree with those in power. This includes the right to be rude, sexist, offensive and even outright wrong. The fact that Mr. Nutting may have made one or more mistakes of fact in his letters to the editor does not change the constitutional analysis. No democracy can function if those who would challenge the government live in fear of a lawsuit if they speak their minds."

Attachments:
Download this file (Creighton Nutting letter.pdf)Creighton Nutting letter.pdf[ ]326 Kb
 

Alleged rape victim denied access to rape kit findings

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Other records denied in case filed on behalf of journalist working with the victim

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 23, 2013

CONTACT:  Tyler Richard, (402) 476-8091 x104, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN - A lawsuit was filed today on behalf of journalist Emily Bazelon and web-based magazine Slate alleging that the Lincoln Police Department has failed to comply with Nebraska's Public Records Act. The lawsuit, filed by the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School and the ACLU of Nebraska, states that Bazelon is working with an alleged sexual assault victim. The alleged assault was reported to LPD years ago, but the victim has been denied access to any information about steps taken by the LPD to investigate, even being denied information about what was done with her own rape kit.

The lawsuit stems from a police report filed in June of 2004. To the victim’s knowledge, no thorough investigation was conducted due to the prominence in Nebraska athletics of the alleged perpetrator. Nearly ten years later, the case is marked open even though charges have never been filed. A letter from the victim to LPD from Nov. 2013 requested that the case be marked closed and the records released to Bazelon.

The victim has been in contact with Bazelon due to a series of articles written by Bazelon on the subject of rape by college players. In a Dec. 2013 article, Bazelon expressed concerns about the lack of prosecutions in such cases.

The Yale clinic is dedicated to protecting access to government information and promoting robust investigative journalism. According to Conor Clarke, a Yale law student working on the case, Ms. Bazelon’s lawsuit raises fundamental issues about the ability of citizens to monitor the actions of police.

The Nebraska ACLU, which is serving as local counsel, states that their concerns are simply about access to records.  "If Lincoln Police have a legitimate reason to drop an investigation and not pursue charges, the person who reported the crime has a right to know those reasons," said Amy Miller, Legal Director for the ACLU of Nebraska. "The law enforcement exemption to the Public Records Act was not meant to prevent someone from learning the results of their complaint, and certainly not meant to deny someone access to the results of their own rape kit."

The lawsuit, citing the Public Records Act, states "when a public body denies a request for records, [a government agency] must provide a full description of the contents of the records withheld and a statement of the specific reasons for denial, correlating specific portions of the records to specific reasons for denial." According to the lawsuit, multiple attempts to obtain the records were denied without any cause stated.

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ABOUT: ACLU of Nebraska and its diverse membership works in courts, the legislature and our communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States and Nebraska guarantee everyone in this state.

Attachments:
Download this file (Slate_petition_file_stamped.pdf)Slate_petition_file_stamped.pdf[ ]102 Kb
 

Government to ACLU: Thanks for Protecting Free Speech

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Federal official responds to ACLU concerns about free speech outside of Lincoln's Federal Building.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 26, 2012
CONTACT: Amy Miller, (402) 476-8091, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

unitarian_love_banner_sm

Officials from the General Services Administration agreed that security overstepped their authority when telling this group of ralliers to move.

LINCOLN – Normally when the general public thinks of federal security officers needing to disperse a crowd, we think of unruly people shouting, interfering with the general public and giving cause to alarm for those passing by. To some officials at the Federal Building in Downtown Lincoln, there is an entirely different image of a dangerous crowd that requires their intervention: a group of middle-aged church goers handing out flyers and holding a banner with the word "love" in big, bold letters.
Unitarian Church members decided to rally outside of the Federal Building this past spring. After about 40 minutes, the 15 or so participants were approached by building security. The security officers informed them there were on federal property without a permit and needed to move to the edge of the street.
"Essentially, they told those at the rally that the sidewalk was not a sidewalk," said Amy Miller, Legal Director for ACLU Nebraska. "Officials have an obligation to protect the Federal Building and those in it, but they also have an obligation to protect the First Amendment."
There is a knee-high concrete barrier that runs along the outside of the sidewalk, leaving approximately a foot of space to stand between the barrier and the actual gutter. At the time of the incident, security referred to this strip as the sidewalk.
"According to security, the ideal place for protestors was right next to traffic and away from people," continued Miller. "It was akin to saying 'you have free speech, just stand in the corner and talk to the wall so people can't hear what you are saying. From the assigned place in the gutter, there was no way to hand out flyers to pedestrians."
Sidewalks are highly protected free speech zones, according to the US Supreme Court. "The law is clear," said Miller. "Anyone may stand on a public sidewalk with a sign or pamphlets without needing permission or a permit."
In June, ACLU Nebraska sent a letter to the General Services Administration asking them to evaluate its current practice related to free speech. Mary Kosmicki of the Nebraska Field Office for the GSA replied in July thanking the ACLU for bringing this situation to their attention and informing the ACLU that officials at the downtown location would no longer be interfering with free speech.
"I want to see tax-payer dollars spent preventing legitimate threats to security of those who work in Government," said Miller. "I'm thankful to Ms. Kosmicki and the rest of the GSA for taking this matter seriously. It is always our goal to see complaints resolved simply by speaking to a government agency about the concern."

 

Granted: A License for Free Speech

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State of Nebraska Agrees to Respect First Amendment Rights

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 21, 2011

CONTACT: Amy Miller, (402) 476-8091 in Lincoln or Tracy Hightower-Henne, (402) 905-2886 in Omaha

LINCOLN – On Friday, ACLU Nebraska was informed by the Nebraska Attorney General's office that Frank Shoemaker of Holbrook would be allowed to have a license plate reading "NE420."

"ACLU Nebraska is pleased that the State of Nebraska has decided to respect the Constitution and Mr. Shoemaker's First Amendment rights," said ACLU Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. "We hope that in the future, Attorney General Jon Bruning will have more respect for constitutional rights and tax-payer dollars, before situations escalate to a lawsuit."

"I look forward to resuming my campaign. All I ever wanted was to work with fellow Nebraskans in the democratic process of this ballot campaign. No one should have to fear government censorship for his political views," said Mr. Shoemaker.

Shoemaker is sponsor of Proposition 19, a ballot initiative campaign to change Nebraska’s cannabis laws. The plate was denied during initial application process. On multiple occasions, ACLU Nebraska informed the Department of Motor Vehicles of their unconstitutional policy and requested the opportunity to resolve the matter informally. The State of Nebraska refused to give Mr. Shoemaker his license plate until after a federal lawsuit was filed last week.

 
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