Monday, June 10, 2019
#FREESPEECH IN THE NEWS: JUNE 10, 2019
As the Citadel of Free Speech here in Cleveland, we work to protect and promote the basis of our democracy by sharing related stories, commentary, and opinions on free speech in the 21st century. Here's what's making the news – and what you should know about – in the past week.
Gov. Jared Polis on Monday signed a law to protect citizens and news outlets from lawsuits that seek to curb their free speech rights. Colorado joins nearly 30 states that have adopted measures to curb what are called strategic lawsuits against public participation.
Witnesses testified during the legislative session about how they’d been sued for libel or slander simply for exercising their First Amendment rights.
The new law allows a citizen to seek an immediate stay of such a lawsuit by arguing it’s motivated by the citizen’s exercise of First Amendment rights. A higher court can order immediate dismissal of the lawsuit, and plaintiffs can be held liable for court costs and attorneys’ fees.
In November 2016, a black Oberlin College student walked into a family-run shop near the Ohio school to buy wine with a fake ID, according to court records. A white employee, the grandson of an owner, suspected that the student was also trying to steal wine, and chased him outside, placing him in a chokehold, according to some witness accounts included in the records. Two of the students’ friends, who are also black, intervened.
The altercation quickly touched off protests by students outside the shop, Gibson’s Bakery, which has been a fixture in Oberlin, about 40 miles west of Cleveland, for more than 100 years.
They accused the shop of being racist, and petitioned the college to cut its ties to the bakery, which was a supplier to its cafeterias. The bakery and two of its owners then sued the college for libel, in November 2017, accusing it of supporting and stoking the students’ claims of racism.
The University of Illinois has become the target of lawsuit claiming the school has violated its students' free-speech rights.
Virginia-based Speech First filed the lawsuit last week against Illinois in U.S. District Court in Urbana. The News-Gazette in Champaign reports the lawsuit accuses the university of squelching free speech by requiring "prior approval" for posting leaflets. It also claims the university uses practices, including bias response teams that intimidate students into silence. The lawsuit indicates it was filed following complaints by students it didn't identify.
Speech First President Nicole Neily, an Illinois graduate, said she was "disappointed" to learn about alleged violations of student free-speech rights and decided it was necessary to take action. Similar lawsuits have been filed by the organization against the University of Texas and University of Michigan.