Monday, November 25, 2019
#FREESPEECH IN THE NEWS: November 25, 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.
An elementary school art lesson meant to encourage students to explore activism resulted in a First Amendment violation when the teacher censored students' Black Lives Matter posters, the ACLU claims.
A volunteer teaching a lesson on art and activism at Sacramento's Del Paso Manor Elementary School in September asked students to create a poster focusing on change they wanted to see in the school, according to statements from both San Juan Unified School District, which includes the school, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.
The problem began when some students who created Black Lives Matter posters were told they needed to redo the assignment and didn't have their work displayed in the classroom, the ACLU says. In a letter sent Thursday, the group called out the school district for censorship, claiming the school is violating the First Amendment.
Five freelance photojournalists are suing the Department of Homeland Security for violating their First Amendment rights. The photojournalists claim that they were tracked, detained, and interrogated by Homeland Security while they were covering the issues along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2018 and 2019.
The plaintiffs are Bing Guan, Go Nakamura, Mark Abramson, Kitra Cahana, and Ariana Drehsler. They are all U.S. citizens and professional photojournalists. According to ACLU, U.S. border officers targeted them for secondary screening at the border, they “compelled them to disclose information about their sources and observations as journalists, and even searched through their photos and notes.” This reportedly happened on multiple occasions during 2018 and 2019.
Furthermore, all five journalists were reportedly identified in a secret government database that leaked in March 2019. The database included their headshots and personal information such as name, date of birth, occupation, and previous interrogations. “Three of the headshots were crossed out with a bold ‘X,’” ACLU claims. “A fourth, which was not crossed out, warned, ‘Pending Encounter,’ below it.”
Last week a Charlotte judge issued an order temporarily blocking WBTV from airing a story. It was dissolved less than 24 hours later, with little real-life impact, but the constitutional principle at stake was huge.
Decades of court cases have established that the government almost never gets to block dissemination of news. Instead, the First Amendment gives reporters the freedom to publish – or broadcast – but they must take the consequences if they violate libel or other laws.
WBTV investigative reporter David Hodges started investigating the soldier’s complaint earlier this fall. Last week the station started running promos saying the story would air the evening of Nov. 14. SL Recovery, the towing company whose practices were being questioned, hired lawyer Cedric Rainey to fight the story.