Free Speech

ACLU: Policy on speech at Arena unconstitutional, lawsuit planned

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October 16, 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 – The policy governing speech at the Pinnacle Bank Arena fails to meet basic constitutional requirements, according to the ACLU, and the City of Lincoln should be prepared to face a lawsuit. This announcement from the ACLU comes after a policy was posted on the Pinnacle Bank Arena website Wednesday. The ACLU is representing Larry Ball, a 77 year old Navy veteran who was ticketed in March for distributing religious pamphlets. The case was dismissed but the City has threatened to file new criminal charges should he return to the Arena. Until now, there was no written policy.

"The newly announced policy fails in several significant ways," said Joel Donahue, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Nebraska. "The City wants to prohibit the most classic, honored forms of free speech, including leafleting. A complicated map tries to push free speech to the very edge of public land, yet there are no clear boundaries to give the average person any advance notice of their rights. Apparently some people will be given permission to express themselves--but there are no criteria outlining who gets those rights."

“Our client and all individuals of any faith or political persuasion have the right to express their views on any subject in public,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. “The City of Lincoln has failed to acknowledge the right of all residents to communicate ideas on a public sidewalk. Not only are we preparing a lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Ball, we are ready to take additional complaints from those who want to exercise their First Amendment rights outside of the Arena.”

Donahue said the policy flies in the face of existing court precedent. “The government cannot dodge their constitutional responsibilities by delegating the management and decision making to someone else. The city should welcome pamphleteers, demonstrators and others engaging in peaceful free speech activity at the Arena.”

Larry Ball is a father of four who says becoming a Christian four decades ago saved his life and marriage. He shares the story that saved his life by producing pamphlets that he distributes in public areas.

"The Good News of Jesus Christ changed me," said Ball. "Jesus said that He would make His followers fishers of men.  As you know, fishermen have to go where the fish are and the public sidewalk by the Arena is a great "fishing hole!”

The ACLU does not have a timeline for filing suit.

To review the policy from Pinnacle Bank:

Cell phone image of Mr. Ball being arrested in March, 2014.

Lincoln Police Department agrees to release rape kit results

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Lincoln Police Department agrees to release rape kit results, other findings to alleged victim

June 23, 2014

LINCOLN – A settlement has been reached between the Lincoln Police Department and national web-based magazine Slate in relation to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Nebraska in December of 2013. Slate is dropping the lawsuit and the Lincoln Police Department has made arrangements for the alleged victim to review the findings from the investigation, including the findings of her own rape kit.

The lawsuit was filed by the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School and ACLU of Nebraska on behalf of journalist Emily Bazelon.

Statement from Amy Miller, Legal Director for ACLU of Nebraska

When law enforcement has stopped investigating a crime that you reported, you should be able to learn why. We are pleased that the alleged victim will have access to records which include the findings of her own rape kit. We hope that Lincoln Police Department will make it easier for other alleged victims to understand how to obtain records about the crimes they report in the future.

For information about the original lawsuit:


Nebraska School Activities Association Must Respect Student Speech

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ACLU responds to censoring of student speech

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:

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

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."

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


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.


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.

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