first amendment rights

ACLU-Michigan

Dozens of Michigan communities are getting letters from the American Civil Liberties Union warning them that their anti-panhandling laws may be unconstitutional.

Over the summer, a federal appeals court ruled Michigan’s anti-panhandling law was unconstitutional. 

The city of Birmingham has settled a federal lawsuit by adopting a new free speech policy.

The Michigan ACLU sued the city after animal rights protesters were arrested last year.

Protesters with the Southwest Michigan Animal Rights Team (SMART) were holding signs and passing out literature outside a Birmingham fur store in December 2012.

Police told the protesters they had to “keep moving” in order to be there. When one protester questioned the officers, she was arrested and charged with loitering.

steve carmody

Detroit and national news media are in an uproar after learning a news photographer was arrested for filming police last week.

Detroit Free Press photographer Mandi Wright was filming police making an arrest on her iPhone last Thursday.

Here's the video:

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Michigan Court of Appeals has tossed a big jury award in a former Detroit school teacher's whistleblower lawsuit.

In 2004, Beverly Garvin claims a fourth grade student told her that two boys had forced her to perform oral sex. Garvin says she reported the alleged assault to her superiors and nothing happened. Garvin says when she persisted, including contacting police, she was transferred and eventually fired. 

A jury awarded Garvin $750 thousand in damages. 

Correction:     An earlier version of this story spelled "Corunna" incorrectly. It has been fixed.

The Corunna Public School District is facing a federal lawsuit after a lesbian teacher was fired. The controversy started with a Diversity Club at the high school in the small town west of Flint.

Brook Johnson was a teacher/advisor to the Diversity Club. In 2009 the club decided to put up a display in honor of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender History month. It featured photos of celebrities who had come out as gay or lesbian. It caused controversy and the school board ordered it removed.

The ACLU challenged the decision. The Corunna Board of Education changed its position and allowed the display.

The lawsuit alleges the administration then turned on Johnson, ostracizing her and then forcing her out.

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) - The city of Dearborn has paid $100,000 in legal fees to attorneys for a Christian evangelist whose free-speech rights were violated at a popular Arab-American street festival.

Dearborn has a large Muslim population and one of the nation's biggest concentrations of people with roots in the Arab world. (Photo above of the Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in the U.S. by Flickr user ruffin_ready.)

City police in 2010 barred George Saieg and his allies from freely walking sidewalks with literature to convert Muslims to Christianity. Chief Ron Haddad says he was just controlling foot traffic, but a federal appeals court says the city violated the First Amendment.

The court says allowing the evangelists on the festival's perimeter wasn't good enough.

As the prevailing party, Saieg was entitled to legal fees and other costs from Dearborn. His lawyers say the money was paid last week.

AP

The free speech case of a controversial Florida Pastor best known for burning the Quran has started in Wayne County

A jury found Terry Jones guilty of breaching the peace in April. Dearborn police arrested him before he could proceed with an anti-Islamic protest outside the country’s largest mosque on Good Friday.

Jones wants that decision reversed. He also wants the court to lift an ongoing injunction that bars him from protesting in that spot.

Update 1:44 p.m.

A federal judge has struck down the Michigan law that bars protests at funerals.

Detroit U.S. District Judge Thomas Ludington says the law violates free speech rights and is too vague too enforce.

Lewis and Jean Lowden challenged the law after they were stopped and removed from a funeral procession by police.

They had signs critical of President George W. Bush taped to their car windows.

They were on their way to the burial of a family friend who died in Iraq.

Dan Korobkin is the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represented the Lowdens. He says it is still illegal to disrupt a funeral.

"But what’s not against the law is to express your own views on a public street and risk being arrested or penalized for that just because your views don’t accord with the views of other people – either at the funeral or, even in this case, the police officers who were directing traffic," said Korobkin.

The law was passed largely to stop the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting at the funerals of fallen service members. Members of the church show up outside military funerals with signs that say the deaths were caused by America’s tolerance of homosexuality.

10:55 a.m.

This just came in from MPRN's Rick Pluta:

A federal judge has struck down the state law barring protests at military funerals.

The Michigan law was passed in 2006 to keep members of the Westboro Baptist Church from demonstrating at military funerals. More than 40 states passed similar legislation barring the practice, according to the First Amendment Center.

Last March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Westboro protesters in the "Snyder v. Phelps" case.

Last month, a similar state law in Missouri was found to be unconstitutional by a federal judge.

We'll have more from Rick Pluta later today.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A controversial Florida pastor is scheduled to begin a rally in downtown Dearborn at this hour. The rally will take place in front of Dearborn city hall.  

user dbking / Flickr

In "Snyder v. Phelps," the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Fred Phelps, the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas.

The Church got attention by picketing military funerals holding signs that read:

  • "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11"
  • "America is Doomed”
  • “Don’t Pray for the USA"
  • “Thank God for IEDs”
  • “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”
  • “Pope in Hell”
  • “Priests Rape Boys”
  • “God Hates Fags”
  • “You’re Going to Hell”
  • and last, but not least... “God Hates You.”

From the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the First Amendment protects a fringe religious group that protested at the funeral of a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq.

The court, on an 8-1 vote, ruled that the soldier's father couldn't sue Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., for celebrating his son's death with vulgar funeral pickets and an online attack.

The case was a test of how far the First Amendment goes in protecting offensive speech.

CMU students protesting the appearance of the Westboro Baptist Church members
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church spoke to journalism students at Central Michigan University Monday. The church is known for protesting at the funerals of U.S. soldiers. The group was invited to speak to journalism law students about how far free speech is protected by the first amendment.