The First Amendment gives us freedoms we believe are the bedrock of American democracy. From speech to the press, from religion and association to assembly and petition. This amendment is essential to our identity as Americans. This amendment allows us to protest, practice any religion, and speak our mind when we think the government is up to no good.
The ACLU of Idaho fights to maintain Idahoans First Amendment rights in the legislature and through litigation, while exercising them through public education.
The Right to Free Speech and Protesting
Can my free speech be restricted because of what I say—even if it is controversial?
- A march or parade that does not stay on the sidewalk, and other events that require blocking traffic or street closure
- A large rally requiring the use of sound amplifying devices; or
- A rally at certain designated parks or plazas
The Freedom of the Press
The freedom of the press, protected by the First Amendment, is critical to a democracy in which the government is accountable to the people. A free media functions as a watchdog that can investigate and report on government wrongdoing. It is also a vibrant marketplace of ideas, a vehicle for ordinary citizens to express themselves and gain exposure to a wide range of information and opinions.
The rise of the national security state and the proliferation of new surveillance technologies have created new challenges to media freedom. The government has launched an unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers, targeting journalists in order to find their sources. Whistleblowers face prosecution under the World War One-era Espionage Act for leaks to the press in the public interest. And in the face of a growing surveillance apparatus, journalists must go to new lengths to protect sources and, by extension, the public’s right to know.
The ACLU has played a central role in defending the freedom of the press, from our role in the landmark Pentagon Papers case to our defense of whistleblower Edward Snowden and our advocacy for a new media shield law. When press freedom is harmed, it is much harder to hold our government accountable when it missteps or overreaches.
The Right to Artistic Expression
The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment’s protection of speech to extend well beyond speeches and books to virtually anything that the human creative impulse can produce. The First Amendment embodies the belief that in a free and democratic society, individual adults must be free to decide for themselves what to read, write, paint, draw, compose, see, and hear.
Provocative and controversial art and in-your-face entertainment frequently test our commitment to this belief. Why oppose censorship when scenes of murder dominate video entertainment, when works of art can directly insult peoples’ religious beliefs, and when pornography abounds on the Internet? Why not let the majority’s morality and taste dictate what others can look at or listen to?
The answer is simple and timeless: A free society is based on an individual’s right to decide what art they want—or do not want—to see. Once you allow the government to censor one person, it has the power to censor you or something you like. The ACLU advocates for the principle that free expression for ourselves requires free expression for others. Check out our most recent case regarding artistic expression here.
The Freedom to Photograph:
Taking photographs and video of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right—and that includes transportation facilities, the outside of federal buildings, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties.
Unfortunately, law enforcement officers have been known to ask people to stop taking photographs of public places. Those who fail to comply have sometimes been harassed, detained, and arrested. Other people have ended up in FBI databases for taking innocuous photographs of public places.
The right of citizens to record the police is a critical check and balance. It creates an independent record of what took place in a particular incident, one that is free from accusations of bias, lying, or faulty memory. It is no accident that some of the most high-profile cases of police misconduct have involved video and audio records.
Relatedly, artistic expression should never be chilled out of fear of unwarranted police scrutiny. No one should ever find an FBI agent on their doorstep just because they photographed public art.
Through litigation, public education, and other forms of advocacy, the ACLU has defended the rights of photographers and all camera-wielding individuals to document freely. Check out our recent case involving photographing here.