Free Speech

“[W]e have little trouble in concluding that the people who framed and adopted Article I, section 8, as part of the original Oregon Constitution intended to prohibit broadly any laws directed at restraining verbal or nonverbal expression of ideas of any kind.”
-- State v. Ciancanelli
(Oregon Supreme Court, 2005)

The framers of the U.S. Constitution believed that the freedom of inquiry and liberty of expression were the hallmarks of a democratic society. The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights provides protections in a number of areas including free speech.

The framers of the Oregon free speech equivalent, often referred to as our free expression provision, were even more protective of our rights.

Historically, at times of national stress, real or imagined free speech rights come under enormous pressure. During the “Red Scare” of the 1920s, thousand were deported for their political views. During the McCarthy period, the infamous blacklist ruined lives and careers. Today, protestors of U.S. government policies are attacked and creators, producers and distributors of popular culture are often blamed for the nation’s deep social problems.

Calls for censorship threaten to erode free speech.

The First Amendment and Oregon’s free expression provision protect popular speech and the most offensive and controversial speech from government suppression. The best way to counter obnoxious speech is with more speech. Persuasion, not coercion, is the solution.


Oregon Motorcyclist Scores a Win in Discrimination Case

motorcyclistsAugust 19, 2016 - For 14 years, Ron Godwin worked as the chaplain, religious services coordinator, and volunteer coordinator at the Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility (RVYCF) in Grants Pass. Ron loved his work and was deeply appreciated by the youth he served, the volunteers he worked with, and his coworkers. 

By all accounts, he was a fantastic employee. Ron even received an award for his excellent service, which described him as “the glue” that held the facility together. However, three months later, he was abruptly suspended after being seen riding his motorcycle with members of the Vagos Motorcyle Club and wearing their logo on his jacket. After a brief investigation, the Oregon Youth Authority fired him. 

Freedom of speech and association for government employees is an important right protected by the First Amendment. A public employee cannot be fired because he spends his hours outside of the work environment associating with a certain group unless this association is disruptive to the workplace. In Ron’s case, he was fired because of his lawful expression and association related to the Vagos motorcycle club. Nothing suggested his activities did, or were even likely to, disrupt his work.


Criminalizing Kindness

Springfield Votes to Punish Good Samaritans, Homeless People

by Kelly Simon, Legal Fellow
person on the side of the road with signApril 19, 2016 - Cities in Oregon and across the nation are struggling with how best to address their growing homeless populations. Housing first? More social services? Unfortunately, cities often end up choosing what they incorrectly perceive to be most cost efficient: More policing.

The proliferation of low-level criminal offenses created to “regulate” homelessness has taken various forms—anti-panhandling violations, anti-camping offenses, exclusion zones coupled with trespass laws, and disorderly conduct laws. Now we are seeing a new group targeted with these type of offenses—Good Samaritans.



VICTORY! The Right to Film the Police Bill Passes the Oregon Legislature

The Oregon legislature has made it clear the public has the right to openly record police by passing HB 2704. The bill was signed into law by the governor! 

June 16, 2015 - Victory - Right to Film the Police bill passesBystander video of police encounters can be very powerful, as recent events have shown. We can all agree it should not be a crime to pull out a phone, hold it up, and record an officer who is engaged in misconduct. However, under the current Oregon law, it is a crime to record a conversation without "specifically informing" the parties to the conversation. The problem is obvious — it may not always be safe or reasonable to provide a warning; for example, when the officer is engaged in misconduct or if the officer is dealing with a dangerous situation. Now that it has been signed into law, the right to openly record police is protected in Oregon.

Over 1,700 ACLU supporters took action on this issue by contacting their legislators in Salem. Together, our voices were heard! Thank you to everyone who took a stand for the right to film police in Oregon.


FREE SPEECH: Enable expansion of municipal "sit-lie" ordinances (HB 2963) (2013)

Seeking to expand the “sit-lie ordinance” in Portland, the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) introduced HB 2963. The bill would have overturned the decision in the 2009 Multnomah County case State v. Perkins where the judge said that the Portland ordinance that regulated when people could be on the sidewalk was preempted by state law and therefore was unconstitutional.



Internal DOJ Report Leaves Us with More Questions than Answers on the Surveillance of Black Lives Matter in Oregon

By David Rogers, Executive Director

David Rogers photoApril 12, 2016 - Yesterday a report on the surveillance of Black Lives Matter in Oregon was released by the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ). The report confirmed what we learned back in November: that an agent who works for the Criminal Division of DOJ was testing a surveillance program, called Digital Stakeout, by searching various key words, including #BlackLivesMatter. The agent then mistook posts from DOJ’s own Director of Civil Rights, including a post of a Public Enemy logo and political cartoons, as a threat to law enforcement and wrote a memo that was passed all the way up the chain of command to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum before it was, finally, rejected as dangerous, racial profiling. The Attorney General hired an outside attorney to conduct an independent investigation of the matter to determine if policies or laws were violated.

After reading through the report and looking through the exhibits, we are left with more questions than answers. I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or to cry at the lack of awareness that was revealed of both the law and of what might constitute a threat. This is not only shameful, but also dangerous. Given the power that they wield, I am dismayed at the state of the Criminal Justice Division and afraid for the Oregonians that are supposed to be protected by them. Self-reinforced bias, against protesters, black people, and who knows who else, has left the agency ill-equipped to do their job.


Records Requests Filed Regarding DOJ Surveillance of Black Lives Matter

By Mat dos Santos, Legal Director 
Black Lives Matter protestorNovember 13, 2015 – Yesterday, the ACLU of Oregon filed records requests to the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ), Oregon’s Titan Fusion Center, and the United States Department of Justice, including the FBI. We are seeking information regarding the extent of the DOJ's surveillance including questions about the technology that was used, what information was collected, and who was profiled by the department.

In an interview with OPB this week, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum confirmed that a DOJ investigator used an online, subscription-based tool called “Digital Stakeout.” The Digital Stakeout website touts its product as a threat intelligence platform and says users can “search by keyword, hashtag, location, meta-data and more.” Rosenblum revealed that in addition to searching for Black Lives Matter, other searches were performed, including searches for the hashtag, ‘F - the police.’

As these statements reveal, this was more than just a search of hashtags on the internet. We have some preliminary answers, but we also have many more questions. Why was a Black-led social movement used as a jumping-off point for ‘anti-police sentiment’? How did the investigation of the DOJ’s own Civil Rights Division director go so far? Who else was swept up in this dragnet?