Free Speech

Our Work on the First Amendment

The Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center aims to continue the work started by the Civil Rights Movement in the effort to have the First Amendment equally applied to all people regardless of race. This stems from the legacy of the government disregarding Black people's First Amendment rights. The Civil Rights Movement could not simply seek protection of an already equally applied First Amendment. Instead, the civil rights movement can be re-understood as an effort to have the First Amendment equally applied for the first time, as Blacks sought protection from segregation’s hate speech in a manner that balanced dignity and freedom of speech interests.

Our Work

Banned Books Week

We also completed a report entitled Banning the Caged Bird focusing on the first amendment violations inherent in the banning of books focusing on social justice and African American history and culture in jails and prisons across the nation.

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The First Amendment Freedom of Assembly as a Racial Project

This Essay was written by our Executive Director Justin Hansford and it explores the fragile protection provided by the freedom of assembly for those who fight for racial justice. The Essay rejects free speech proponents’ reliance on the First Amendment’s ostensibly instrumental role during the civil rights movement to protect hate speech today. Instead, it demonstrates how authorities have always chilled civil rights speech more than white supremacist speech, contextualizing cases from the civil rights era as examples of occasional exceptions made during short intervals of interest convergence. The Essay then goes on to examine the contemporary administration of freedom of assembly norms, asserting that law enforcement continues to undermine the rights of racial justice protesters on the street and through surveillance, in contrast to its response to white nationalist speech and movements. The Essay calls for a more nuanced approach to freedom of assembly issues that both moves beyond interest convergence and considers human rights standards that affirm both the First and Fourteenth Amendment values of human dignity, public safety, and freedom of expression.

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Amicus Brief in Support of DeRay McKesson

In the Spring the clinic submitted an Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court of the United States in support of the First Amendment Rights of Black Lives Matter protester, DeRay McKesson in DeRay McKesson v. John Doe.  In this case, an unnamed Baton Rouge police officer is suing McKesson for injuries incurred while responding to a protest over the police killing of Alton Sterling, on the grounds that by encouraging people to attend the protests, he should be liable for any and all financial damages that result.

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Access to Books in Prison Project

Book Banning in Michigan Prisons.  On June 27, 2019, the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center along with the ACLU of Michigan, submitted a letter to Michigan's Department of Corrections requesting that the agency remove Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Mask from its prohibited publications list because the banning violates incarcerated individual’s First Amendment and state constitutional rights, international human rights law, as well as MDOC’s own policies.