Protecting free speech and expression means protecting a free press, the democratic process, diversity of thought, and so much more. The ACLU has long defended these rights for everyone—especially those disproportionately affected by suppression and censorship, like protesters, reporters and photographers, religious and racial minorities, people experiencing homelessness, students, and professors.
The right to join with others in protest or peaceful assembly is critical to a functioning democracy and at the core of the First Amendment. In 2018, we sued the City of Cambridge for charging public event organizers for police details in City parks, which essentially forces people to pay to exercise their constitutionally protected right to protest. That same year, we challenged the Natick School Committee’s refusal to allow criticism of the school system during the “Public Speak” portion of its meetings.
We spoke out when the Boston Police Department blocked reporters from accessing parts of a white supremacist protest in August 2017 and had legal observers on the scene of the follow-up protest that November to make sure the press had full access to report on the speakers and event.
Building on our groundbreaking 2011 court victory that secured the right to openly record on-duty police officers, we also provide Know Your Rights resources for demonstrators and others involved in “cop watch” activities. And, in 2020, we won another landmark victory affirming the right to secretly record police officers performing their duties in public spaces.
Over the course of three decades, we have won a string of major victories challenging anti-panhandling laws. In 1997, we secured a landmark ruling from the Supreme Judicial Court, striking down a state statute that outlawed panhandling. In 2015, we successfully challenged city ordinances in Worcester and Lowell. And in 2020, the Supreme Judicial Court struck down an unconstitutional state statute prohibiting the solicitation of funds from motorists.
We have also continued to defend the right to display political signs, challenging unconstitutional municipal ordinances and winning legal victories for clients across Massachusetts who have expressed views from across the political spectrum. In 2021, we filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a conservative Christian group whose request to fly a flag outside Boston City Hall had been wrongly denied.