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.


Gresham Cop Snatches Phone From Observer During Live Broadcast

Police Violated Free Speech and Free Press Rights During Unlawful Search and Detention of Livestreamer

February 11, 2015 - Carrie Medina firmly believes that police should always act as they would if they knew there was a camera on them. She made it a point to film police encounters she witnessed.

In February 2013, while riding the bus home from work, she heard someone exclaim, “Ooh, that must’ve hurt!” and looked outside to see two police officers arresting a young man. She got off the bus to observe the police activity and started a livestream video with her phone. Watch the video.

Medina was no stranger to livestreaming. She got her start during the Occupy Portland protests and had soon gathered a group of dedicated viewers. With donations from her supporters to help cover expenses, she had also traveled to protests in D.C. and Chicago to livestream video.

“Livestreamers” have played an important role in recent protests both by attracting large audiences in real time and also by capturing moments that can go “viral” afterwards. For example, over 750,000 viewers tuned in live to see the violent eviction of the Occupy Wall Street protestors. And recently in Ferguson, Missouri, livestreaming journalists shared video of the militarized police response toward protestors that shocked the nation.

By the time Carrie Medina was off the bus and in place to video, the young man being arrested was already in handcuffs. She stood several yards away broadcasting and narrating the events. She started to feel that the police were paying her a lot of attention and she backed even further away. That’s when Officer Letsis walked up to her and asked to see her video.


Supreme Court Decides Bush Protest Case

prostesters in Jacksonville, OR May 27, 2014 - In a disappointing decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that we cannot sue Secret Service agents for their decision to have peaceful protesters moved blocks away from, and out of earshot of, President George W. Bush during his campaign visit to Jacksonville, Oregon in October, 2004.  Our lawsuit alleged that Secret Service Agents moved our clients further away from the President only because of their vocal criticism of the President’s policies and that action violated the protesters’ constitutional free speech rights. 

The unanimous opinion by Justice Ginsburg stressed that while the Constitution does not allow the Secret Service to treat protesters more harshly because of their viewpoint, the two agents were entitled to qualified immunity and dismissed our claims against them. Much of the Court’s opinion focused on the physical location of the protesters in relation to the President and found a “plausible” security justification for the Secret Service decision to move the protesters. 

"We are disappointed by today’s ruling,” said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “No one disputes that the Secret Service has an overriding interest in protecting the President, but that does not include the right to shield the President from criticism, a critical distinction that the Court unanimously reaffirmed. In our view, the jury should have been allowed to decide whether this case was actually about security or censorship."



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. It is now headed to the Governor’s desk.

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. When the Governor signs HB 2704 into law, the right to openly record police will be 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.



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?


Letter to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum Regarding Surveillance of #BlackLivesMatter

November 10, 2015

Attorney General Rosenblum:

We, the undersigned, have been notified that the Oregon Department of Justice has conducted digital surveillance on Oregonians because of their use of the Black Lives Matter hashtag on social media.