Kansas Police Okay to Stop Suspect’s Prayer to Arrest Her

[UPDATE: On June 28, 2018, the Supreme Court reversed the decision described below.] Two police officers went to the home of Mary Anne Sause in Louisburg, Kansas, 40 miles south of Kansas City, to investigate a noise complaint.  Sause eventually invited them inside.  Sause mentioned the Constitution and Bill of Rights, for which the officers… Read More Kansas Police Okay to Stop Suspect’s Prayer to Arrest Her

Gag Order in Comic-Con Trademark Case Violates First Amendment

The San Diego Comic Con (“con” is short for “convention”) is an international convention held each summer in San Diego, California.  Attendance in recent years has been around 130,000. The San Diego Comic Conn (or SDCC for short) sued Dan Farr Productions, the producers of the “Salt Lake Comic Con”—a similar convention but half the… Read More Gag Order in Comic-Con Trademark Case Violates First Amendment

Constitutional for Georgia Man to Give Church Pastor the Finger

This is another case involving the constitutionality of laws that criminalize “disorderly conduct,” this time in Georgia. David Freeman attended a church service and sat in the back. During the service, the pastor asked all teachers present to stand up so that the congregation could recognize and pray for them. Freeman stood up with the… Read More Constitutional for Georgia Man to Give Church Pastor the Finger

Federal Tax Exemption for Ministers Held Unconstitutional

Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker serve as co-presidents of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a non-profit organization seeking to protect separation of church and state.  As part of their role, they receive a housing allowance from the Foundation. In 2015, the two filed amended tax returns for 2012 and 2013, seeking a partial tax… Read More Federal Tax Exemption for Ministers Held Unconstitutional

Washington Sexting Law Held Constitutional

In Washington State, minor who engage in “sexting”—texting sexually explicit images of oneself to another—can be convicted of child-pornography distribution. (Fair warning: this blog post contains sexually explicit language; we don’t hold back.) Eric Gray, a 17-year-old male, sent an adult woman an unsolicited picture of his erect penis. Accompanying the picture was a message… Read More Washington Sexting Law Held Constitutional

Miami Beach’s Anti-Handbilling Ordinance Faces First Amendment Challenge

Solicitation by hand-billing.  We’ve all seen it.  Recently, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the right of businesses in Miami Beach to solicit business via handbilling, even after complaints that hand-billers were annoying and aggressive. Due to these complaints, the City of Miami Beach enacted an anti-solicitation ordinance and an anti-handbilling ordinance. After receiving numerous citations, several… Read More Miami Beach’s Anti-Handbilling Ordinance Faces First Amendment Challenge

Part of Minnesota’s Disorderly-Conduct Law Held Unconstitutional

Little Falls is a small town along the Mississippi River in central Minnesota. Robin Hensel attended two City Council meetings. She sat in the front row and displayed large signs depicting dead and deformed children, thus blocking the view of some members of the public. The first City Council meeting was adjourned and rescheduled, but Hensel… Read More Part of Minnesota’s Disorderly-Conduct Law Held Unconstitutional

Indiana County Was Wrong to Shut Down Pro-Marijuana Group Rally on Courthouse Steps

So this case is an interesting story about a government failing to accomplish its goals, and a 1999 nativity scene now in the back of a pickup truck. (No, this is not a religion case.) Tippecanoe County in central Indiana is home to Lafayette, West Lafayette, and Purdue University. Back in 1999, the county got… Read More Indiana County Was Wrong to Shut Down Pro-Marijuana Group Rally on Courthouse Steps

Maine Allowed to Limit Noise Outside Abortion Clinics

Like most states, Maine is no stranger to abortion-related protests–both pro-life and pro-choice. Sometimes these protests can turn violent. In 1995, Maine enacted a law making it illegal to make noise that can be heard inside a building with the intent “to jeopardize the health of persons receiving health services within the building,” or with… Read More Maine Allowed to Limit Noise Outside Abortion Clinics

South Dakota Official Excluded from Town Board Meetings

Mary Lee is the elected Clerk for Mathews Township–a small, rural town in South Dakota. She also owns land through which a creek runs before running underneath a nearby street via culverts. The creek flooded in 2011, requiring the town to replace the culverts. Mary and her husband wanted the culverts to be bigger–presumably to accommodate… Read More South Dakota Official Excluded from Town Board Meetings

Sixth Circuit Upholds Prayer to Open County Board Meetings

This is yet another legislative-prayer case: analyzing whether it is a violation of the separation of church and state (the Establishment Clause) to begin a public meeting with prayer. Jackson County, Michigan–just west of Ann Arbor in southeast Michigan–opens its monthly meetings of its nine-member Board of Commissioners with prayer. The prayers are Commissioner-led and… Read More Sixth Circuit Upholds Prayer to Open County Board Meetings

Georgia School Board’s Pre-Meeting Screening Process Held Unconstitutional

Jim Barrett is a social-studies teacher at Saddle Ridge Middle School in rural northwest Georgia. He wanted to attend a school-board meeting and express views critical of the board and the superintendent–specifically about a new grading policy that Damon Raines, the superintendent, had implemented without any action by the board. The school board has a… Read More Georgia School Board’s Pre-Meeting Screening Process Held Unconstitutional

San Francisco’s Labeling Law for Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Found Unconstitutional

San Francisco requires that ads for sugar-sweetened beverages (e.g., soda, pop, whatever you call it) carry a message stating, “Warning: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco.” The message must take up 20% of the ad and be outlined by… Read More San Francisco’s Labeling Law for Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Found Unconstitutional

Illinois’s Full-Slate Requirement for Elections Held Unconstitutional

This is the second recent case to deal with a First Amendment challenge from the 2012 election. This one involved the Libertarian Party of Illinois. Illinois law has what’s called a “full-slate” requirement for non-major (minor) political parties that wish to field candidates on election ballots. It requires them to field candidates for all offices… Read More Illinois’s Full-Slate Requirement for Elections Held Unconstitutional

Johnson’s & Stein’s Exclusion from 2012 Presidential Debates Constitutional

Gary Johnson and Jill Stein–the respective nominees of the Libertarian and Green parties–were excluded from the 2012 presidential debates.  They sued, claiming that the Commission of Presidential Debates violated their First Amendment rights by excluding them based on their viewpoints. Last month, their case was finally decided by a federal appellate court.  The D.C. Circuit… Read More Johnson’s & Stein’s Exclusion from 2012 Presidential Debates Constitutional

Missouri Town Allowed to Ban “All Commercial Activity” in the Park

On the outskirts of St. Louis, the 400-person town of Twin Oaks, Missouri, dedicated a 11-acre park to the public in 1994. To “protect” the park, the town enacted a comprehensive ordinance that prohibited, among other things, obstruction of walkways, vehicles, hunting, and “all commercial activity” except with a permit. The park is quite picturesque.… Read More Missouri Town Allowed to Ban “All Commercial Activity” in the Park

Wyoming Ban on Gathering “Resource Data” Subject to the First Amendment

Wyoming makes it a crime to cross private land (trespass) and “collect resource data” on adjacent public land–a crime that carries a more severe punishment than ordinary trespassing. The law broadly defines both “collect” and “resource data.” The former applies whenever people “take a sample of material” or “acquire, gather, photograph or otherwise preserve information in… Read More Wyoming Ban on Gathering “Resource Data” Subject to the First Amendment

Churches and LGBT Individuals Not Allowed to Challenge Pro-Religious Mississippi Law

You may remember when the Supreme Court in 2015 declared that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. Well that decision was not particularly well-received in Mississippi. Shortly after the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, Mississippi enacted a law that enumerates three “sincerely held religious beliefs” entitled to legal protection. They are: (1) that marriage should… Read More Churches and LGBT Individuals Not Allowed to Challenge Pro-Religious Mississippi Law

First Amendment Claim Plays Critical Role in Texas Sanctuary Cities Case

Last week, a federal district judge temporarily blocked parts of a Texas state immigration law (known as SB4) that would have outlawed sanctuary cities and penalized local officials who did not cooperate with federal immigration-enforcement efforts.  Plaintiffs–a group of cities that challenged the state law–made claims under the First, Fourth, Ninth, Tenth, and Fourteenth Amendments.… Read More First Amendment Claim Plays Critical Role in Texas Sanctuary Cities Case

Police Department’s Policy Banning Discussion of K-9 Program Unconstitutional

Nevada Highway Patrol Major Kevin Tice announced a policy prohibiting officers from talking about the K-9 program with anyone outside the department.  Some officers complained that Tice’s policy was designed to prevent them from publicizing problems in the K9 program.  So they sued Tice, alleging that the policy’s restriction on speech violated the First Amendment.… Read More Police Department’s Policy Banning Discussion of K-9 Program Unconstitutional

New Orleans Suburb Cannot Require Panhandlers to Obtain Permits

Slidell, Louisiana, is a city of about 30,000 people about 35 miles from downtown New Orleans. In the last two years, they received 70 complaints related to panhandling, but police were only able to identify the individuals complained of for 14 of those 70 complaints. In response, the city enacted an ordinance meant to help… Read More New Orleans Suburb Cannot Require Panhandlers to Obtain Permits

No Right to Free Speech in Public Job Interview

Dustin Buxton applied to the Radiation Therapy Program at a Baltimore-area community college. The 65-credit program grants an Associate of Applied Science, and graduates are poised to become radiation therapists for health-care providers, working with x-rays, MRIs, etc. Dustin got past the first stage of the application process (which was just a review of his… Read More No Right to Free Speech in Public Job Interview

Unconstitutional for DOJ to Require Legal-Aid Non-Profit to Formally Represent Clients

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (“NWIRP”) is a non-profit that provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrants. They went toe-to-toe with the Department of Justice earlier this year over a somewhat-nuanced, but important procedural rule that affected NWIRP’s work. A lawsuit ensued, NWIRP invoked the First Amendment, and prevailed.   NWIRP helps immigrants in a… Read More Unconstitutional for DOJ to Require Legal-Aid Non-Profit to Formally Represent Clients

Nebraska Allowed to Restrict Funeral Protests

You may have heard about people protesting military funerals. If you haven’t, here’s a quick primer. The Westboro Baptist Church (“WBC”) views military funerals as ceremonies which suggest that God approves of national policies that WBC thinks are contrary to the Bible’s teachings. For example, some WBC members state that funerals are a form of… Read More Nebraska Allowed to Restrict Funeral Protests

“Occupy Chicago” Protesters Lose Their Free Speech Challenge After Nearly Six Years

Remember the “Occupy” movement/protests from fall 2011? Well some participants in the Chicago chapter of the movement got their (likely) final day in court this summer. Occupy Chicago took place mainly in Grant Park in downtown Chicago, right along Lake Michigan. The city generally didn’t interfere with the movement until over 100 protesters sought “permanent… Read More “Occupy Chicago” Protesters Lose Their Free Speech Challenge After Nearly Six Years

Minnesota Allowed to Restrict “Robocalls” That Contain Political Speech

Have you ever gotten an annoying “robocall” around election time–those pre-recorded messages that campaigns make? Well the state of Minnesota sought to restrict their use, and the state recently prevailed against a First Amendment challenge. The law requires simply that, before placing a robocall (any robocall–not just a political one), the recipient must have given… Read More Minnesota Allowed to Restrict “Robocalls” That Contain Political Speech

Cleveland Sued for Requiring Permit for “First Amendment Activities”

The Cleveland Metroparks Department requires a “First Amendment Permit” to engage in “First Amendment Activities” in a Cleveland park. (You can check out their policy and application here and here.) An applicant must apply at least a week in advance, providing her name, address, phone number, name of organization, number of people participating, and the requested… Read More Cleveland Sued for Requiring Permit for “First Amendment Activities”

New York Catholic-School Principal Exempt from Employment Nondiscrimination Laws’ Protection

For four years, Joanne Fratello was the principal of a Catholic elementary school not far from New York City. When the school did not renew her contract, she sued the school and the church, alleging that the they had engaged in gender discrimination in violation of both state and federal law. The church responded that… Read More New York Catholic-School Principal Exempt from Employment Nondiscrimination Laws’ Protection

President Trump’s Lawyers Say First Amendment Prohibits Protesters’ Suit

Three protesters attended a Trump Campaign rally and held up some signs.  The signs drew Trump’s attention, at which point he said “Get ’em out of here,”  (he later added “Don’t hurt ’em”).  The protesters say that some audience members assaulted them.  They sued, claiming then-candidate Trump’s words incited the violence. In late March, the district judge… Read More President Trump’s Lawyers Say First Amendment Prohibits Protesters’ Suit

South Carolina Prison Guard Fired for Whistle-Blowing About Inmate Mistreatment

Michael Billioni worked in the central control area of a prison where he could see all the security camera footage–past and present. He saw something disturbing, told his wife (who told a reporter), denied to his boss that he told anyone, later confessed, and then was fired. Now, he’s suing, claiming that he had a First… Read More South Carolina Prison Guard Fired for Whistle-Blowing About Inmate Mistreatment

Virginia Official Violated First Amendment by Blocking Man From Commenting on Her Facebook Page

This is the second case in the last 7 days involving people using Facebook to raise public-corruption concerns. Brian Davison is a conscious public citizen, active in local politics. Among other things, he’s concerned about potential corruption in his local government–specifically conflicts of interest among the local school board. Earlier this year, Brian went to… Read More Virginia Official Violated First Amendment by Blocking Man From Commenting on Her Facebook Page

Colorado Student’s Parent Allowed to Challenge School Fundraising for Religious Mission Trip

So this case is just a procedural decision (standing), but it has the makings of a very interesting church-and-state case. A student at a Colorado high school organized a spring-break mission trip to Guatemala through a Christian organization that arranges such mission trips. Two teachers at the high school agreed to chaperone the trip. The student… Read More Colorado Student’s Parent Allowed to Challenge School Fundraising for Religious Mission Trip

Louisiana Sheriff Prosecutes Blogger, Likely Violated First Amendment

Jennifer Anderson set up an anonymous blog and Facebook page called “Exposedat.” Her goal was to highlight and question intertwined personal and business relationships involving public officials in her parish in Louisiana. (Louisiana doesn’t have counties; they have “parishes.”) She made a particular set of postings that got her into hot water with the local sheriff.… Read More Louisiana Sheriff Prosecutes Blogger, Likely Violated First Amendment

Texas Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Corporate Contributions to Political Candidates

Yes, this case is related to the Citizens United decision from 2010. But this Texas case shows what kind of campaign-finance laws are constitutionally allowed post-Citizens United. Okay, to explain what happened in this Texas case requires just a little in-the-weeds review of Citizens United (and in particular what wasn’t at issue in the case). A federal law… Read More Texas Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Corporate Contributions to Political Candidates

University Suspends Student For Tweeting “Graded” Version of Ex’s Apology Letter

Nick Lutz is a student at University of Central Florida. His ex-girlfriend (not a UCF student) sent him a handwritten apology letter after what one can presume was a bad breakup. So, Lutz ‘graded’ the handwritten letter like a school paper, calling out his ex’s spelling, grammar, and syntax errors.  He included feedback on the her handwriting.  He then posted her letter–with his… Read More University Suspends Student For Tweeting “Graded” Version of Ex’s Apology Letter

Connecticut Woman’s Profanity-Laced Tirade at Storekeeper Protected

Nina Baccala stopped by a store in Connecticut one afternoon to transfer some money through Western Union. The store’s manager said she was too late. Nina was not happy; she called the manager “fat” and “ugly” along with several other profanities. She was later convicted of breach of peace and sentenced to 25 days in jail. The Supreme Court of Connecticut… Read More Connecticut Woman’s Profanity-Laced Tirade at Storekeeper Protected

FBI’s Gag Orders to Internet Companies Are Constitutional

The FBI sometimes seeks the aid of private tech companies. Those companies have sometimes pushed back. Today’s case is the latest chapter. The FBI conducts national-security investigations. No real surprise there. To help them, a federal law authorizes the FBI to send a “national security letter” or “NSL” to a “wire or electronic communication service provider” requesting… Read More FBI’s Gag Orders to Internet Companies Are Constitutional

San Francisco Allowed to Prohibit Anti-Abortion Medical Clinics from Making False or Misleading Statements

A medical clinic in San Francisco called “First Resort” provided free, pregnancy-related medical services. It was an example of a so-called “crisis pregnancy center.” It was a pro-life non-profit, dedicated to building “an abortion-free world.” Thus, First Resort did not provide abortion services to its patients, nor would it refer its patients to a facility… Read More San Francisco Allowed to Prohibit Anti-Abortion Medical Clinics from Making False or Misleading Statements

ACLU Threatens Suit After Pennsylvania Town Says Naval Officer’s Nightly Taps Routine Is A Nuisance

Can a town stop someone from playing a military bugle call because they think it’s annoying? The ACLU doesn’t think so. Active-duty naval officer Joshua Corney played a recording of taps each night from his home in rural south-central Pennsylvania. (“Taps” is a one-minute bugle call played at various military ceremonies and at dusk on military bases.) After some time,… Read More ACLU Threatens Suit After Pennsylvania Town Says Naval Officer’s Nightly Taps Routine Is A Nuisance

Unconstitutional for County Board in North Carolina to Open Meetings with Prayers

The five-person Board of County Commissioners of Rowan County, North Carolina, begins each of their semi-monthly meetings with a prayer. (They post videos of their meetings online.) The full 15-judge Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held 10-to-5 today that this practice is unconstitutional as a violation of the Establishment Clause. Prayer to start government… Read More Unconstitutional for County Board in North Carolina to Open Meetings with Prayers

A First Amendment Right to Access President Trump’s Twitter Account?

President Trump just got sued by Twitter users that he (or his aides) allegedly blocked from his Twitter account after those users posted comments to President Trump’s tweets critical of him or his administration. Those blocked users claim that their First Amendment rights are being violated. We read the 25-page complaint, and here is the… Read More A First Amendment Right to Access President Trump’s Twitter Account?

First Amendment Protects Right to Film On-Duty Police Officers

This is another decision affirming the right to record on-duty police officers in public. The facts here are unsurprising:  some people filmed some police officers, the officers didn’t like it, arrested the filmers, filmers sued. Filming police is–as the court said–a “common practice.”  Think of all of the on-duty police you’ve seen on film recently:… Read More First Amendment Protects Right to Film On-Duty Police Officers

Texas High School Allowed to Force Students to Recite Mexican Pledge of Allegiance for Teaching Purposes

When Brenda Brinsdon was a high-school sophomore in a small town called McAllen near the southern tip of Texas, her Spanish teacher required her and her class to memorize and recite the Mexican pledge of allegiance during a week meant to make the students aware of the culture and heritage of Mexico. Brenda didn’t want… Read More Texas High School Allowed to Force Students to Recite Mexican Pledge of Allegiance for Teaching Purposes

Iowa State Wrongly Discriminated Against Pro-Marijuana Student Group’s T-Shirts

There’s a group called the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, and they have a student chapter at Iowa State University. That chapter is an official student group like all the others. The student group made t-shirts that included their name, the Iowa State logo, and a marijuana leaf. The group had… Read More Iowa State Wrongly Discriminated Against Pro-Marijuana Student Group’s T-Shirts

First Amendment Cases from the Supreme Court’s 2016-17 Term

The Supreme Court just wrapped up its 2016-17 term, during which it decided four First Amendment cases. In three of them, the Court ruled against the government. In the fourth, the Court sent the case back down for further consideration: Missouri Must Pay Church for Resurfaced Playground   Federal Government Cannot Ban Disparaging Trademarks  … Read More First Amendment Cases from the Supreme Court’s 2016-17 Term

Missouri Must Pay Church for Resurfaced Playground

This was by far the Supreme Court’s most newsworthy First Amendment case this term. (You may have read about it in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, or other news organization.) Missouri has a program that will partially reimburse schools, daycares, and other entities if they resurface their playgrounds with rubber from… Read More Missouri Must Pay Church for Resurfaced Playground