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Free Speech

Freedom of speech is protected in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights and is guaranteed to all Americans. Since 1920, the ACLU has worked to preserve free speech. Free speech is not always popular, but the First Amendment protects speech for all people, regardless of popularity. In fact, it is when speech is unpopular, controversial, or incites strong emotions that it is most in need of protection. 

RICHMOND, VA – In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today reversed its earlier ruling that a 2011 North Carolina law allowing specialty license plates that say “Choose Life,” but not an alternative plate with a message supporting reproductive freedom, was unconstitutional. In a ruling today, the court now says North Carolina is under no obligation to offer a pro-choice plate, and it sent the case back to the district court to enter judgement for the state.

The North Carolina law had been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina on behalf of pro-choice drivers.

“It’s very disappointing that North Carolina can now deny drivers on one side of this contentious issue an equal ability to express their views,” said Sarah Preston, acting Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “Regardless of the court’s ruling, the General Assembly should finally do the right thing and allow citizens on both sides of this controversial issue to purchase specialty license plates supporting their views.”


RICHMOND, Va. – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will hear oral arguments on Wednesday, October 29, over a 2011 North Carolina law that would have required abortion providers to show a woman an ultrasound and describe the images in detail four hours before performing an abortion, even if the woman objects. A federal court struck down key provisions of the law in January; the state is now appealing that ruling.

“These unconstitutional measures would have prevented doctors from using their best medical judgment to provide patients with care based on their specific individual needs,” said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “Politicians have no business intruding into individuals’ private medical decisions.”

WHAT: Oral arguments in appeal of case that struck down demeaning 2011 ultrasound law


By Dr. Craig Fischer, Professor of Film and Cultural Studies at Appalachian State University

On Saturday, June 21, I hosted an ACLU of North Carolina-sponsored panel on “Comics Regulation and Comics Censorship” at Heroes Con, the Southeast’s longest running comicon. The well-attended discussion addressed instances when political and public outrage over the content of comic books clashed with the First Amendment.

The panel began with a discussion of a recent controversy in South Carolina, where legislators in the House of Representatives threatened to reduce state funding to the College of Charleston as a penalty for using Alison Bechdel’s lesbian-themed graphic novel Fun Home (2006) in a campus program. Present for the Fun Home discussion were Dr. Conseula Francis, a comics scholar and professor of English at the College of Charleston, and Christopher Brook, ACLU-NC Legal Director. Brook and Francis discussed the literary merits of Fun Home, the importance of protecting academic freedom, and the ways in which the “comic books are for kids” stereotype make adult graphic novels more susceptible to attack.


N.C. Fracking Bill Could Chill Free Speech

Posted on in Free Speech

By Sarah Preston, Policy Director, ACLU-NC

In less than 48 hours, and with little public comment, the North Carolina House of Representatives has approved a bill that would not only allow fracking for natural gas to begin next year – but also make it a criminal offense for government officials to publicly disclose what chemicals fracking companies are pumping into the ground.  

A seven-line provision in Senate Bill 786 (Part V, §8(d)) makes it a misdemeanor for members of the Mining and Energy Commission or employees of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to reveal information about the cocktail of chemicals pumped into the ground during hydraulic fracturing, which energy companies use to extract oil and gas from rock, if the Commission has determined that the information should be protected as a “trade secret.”


RICHMOND, VA – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today ruled that a 2011 North Carolina law that would have allowed the production of a “Choose Life” license plate, but not an alternative plate with a message supporting reproductive freedom, is unconstitutional.

“Issuing a ‘Choose Life’ specialty license plate while refusing to issue a pro-choice specialty license plate constitutes blatant viewpoint discrimination squarely at odds with the First Amendment,” the court ruled in a unanimous 3-0 opinion.  

“Today’s ruling protects the right of North Carolinians of all political beliefs to have equal access to avenues for free speech,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, who argued the case in front of the Fourth Circuit. “As the court reiterated today, the government cannot create an avenue of expression for one side of a contentious political issue while denying an equal opportunity to citizens with the opposite view. North Carolina’s one-sided license plate scheme constituted blatant viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment. We would have made the exact same argument if the situation was reversed, and the state planned on issuing a pro-choice plate while not offering one expressing the opposite point of view.”