Recent First Amendment Cases | Lindsay Maizland | April 25, 2016


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Recent First Amendment Cases

By Jacob Atkins

Ferguson Protests: 

This Al Jazeera America article analyzes police tactics in Freguson, Missouri and their implications on free speech, especially among marginalized communities. Despite being published in March 2015, this topic is still relevant as police departments across the United Statesattempt to restore trust amond their respective communities. According to the article, the Department of Justice declared that the Ferguson Police Department (FPD) have "routinely violated" African Americans' rights to free speech. Specifically, many protestors have faced legal repercussions for simply "talking back" to law enforcement officials, recording police-related activities in public settings and even the act of protesting itself. Not even journalists or reporters are immune to these alleged acts of censorship and suppression, which certainly reinforces notions of prior restraint.

Although verbal criticism against police officers is permissible and protected under the First Amendment, the FPD are notorious for arresting individuals on grounds of "noncompliance." For many, this exemplifies unconstitutional policing methods and an "intolerance" for legally-grounded opposition. Keeping this in mind, it will be interesting to see what gradually unfolds as plaintiffs attempt to prosecute FPD.

SOURCE: (DOJ says Ferguson police violated African-American’s free speech rights). (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2016, from


Ag-Gag Laws:

Similar to the Minnesota Public Nuisance Law of 1925, many of today’s ag-gag laws refers to state ordinances deliberately trying to prevent undercover filming or photography on farms without prior consent from the owner. Such legislation has resulted in states having the liberty to persecute animal rights activists for trying to expose certain practices at industrial farms. According to the article a farm worker in North Carolina was recently charged with four counts of animal cruelty after activist group Mercy for Animals released a video of him crushing the heads of four chickens on the heal of his shoe. Originally this farm was partnered with Purdue, which is one of the largest poultry processing companies in the country. However, the enterprise terminated its contract with the farm soon after the incident occurred.

Keeping this incident in mind, North Carolina just became the seventh state in the country to pass ag-gag laws in hopes of protecting their industries from such negative exposure. Specifically, the "Property Protection Act" is meant to protect businesses from individuals "attempting to discredit these private businesses unfairly." As mentioned in the article, if Mercy for Animals released the video after the law was passed, they would have faced a daily fine of $5,000 for every day in which the video circulated. All things considered, I feel as though Upton Sinclair would be rolling in his grave right about now, for he was the muckraker who began exposing the amoral practices of the American meat industry in his 1906 novel "The Jungle." These laws directly counteract everything he stood for, especially corporate accountability and business transparency. All in all, these ag-gag laws appear to be censoring free speech if it's critical of a state's business interests. Once again, it seems as though business endeavors take precedence over respecting people's first amendment rights.

SOURCE: (If You Love Animals and Free Speech, You Should Be Worried of Ag-Gag Laws). (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2016, from



Persepolis is a coming-to-age graphic novel written and illustrated by Iranian-born French cartoonist and filmmaker, Marjane Satrapi. A French publishing house predominantly known for comic books, L’Association, published the autobiography in 2000. The graphic novel depicts the early days of the Iranian Revolution through the eyes of a young girl, which was expectedly censored in Iran. A lot of material is unabashedly critical of the government, not to mention lamenting over the “good old days” before the religious clerics enforced such stringent ordinances, such as a new dress code for women and banning “inappropriate” music that allegedly promoted promiscuity. While a negative reception from Iran was anything but expected, it’s rather mind boggling that Persepolis came under fire at a school in Chicago.

In 2013 the Chicago Public School (CPS) system restricted seventh-grade classrooms from reading Persepolis due to its graphic language and images. Many people ranging from teachers to advocacy groups denounced the decision as “Orwellian,” which is an adjective attributed to author George Orwell conveying notions of “draconian control, propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past” (Wikipedia). Apparently schools across the city were simply told by the district to remove the book from libraries and classrooms without any explanation. After a series of protests, though, CPS partially renounced their decision.

In the end Persepolis was allowed to remain in libraries but forbidden from the classroom due to the images and language. According to one official from CPS, “we want to make sure that the message about inhumanity (is what) kids walk away with, not the images of someone with exposed body parts urinating on someone’s back or someone being tortured” (Flood, 2013). In that sense, it seems as though CPS wanted to ensure that students understood the intended message of the book.

SOURCE: (Persepolis Battle in Chicago School Provokes Outcry). (March 19, 2013). Retrieved March 14, 2016, from


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April 25, 2016

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Lindsay Maizland

American University

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