Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the government has gone to extraordinary lengths to squelch dissent — from censorship and surveillance to detention, denial of due process and excessive force. Why should this disturb us? Because democracy is not a quiet business. Its lifeblood is the free and vibrant exchange of ideas. How are we going to convince holdouts in other countries about the importance of free speech and civil liberties if we show so little faith in our own?

The government's chilling message has gone out across America: Dissent if you must, but proceed at your own risk.

The ACLU is committed to protecting Americans’ First Amendment rights. We have successfully challenged the government’s exclusion of foreign scholars denied U.S. visas because of their political views, and we have represented individuals who have been targeted for exercising their constitutionally protected freedom to dissent.

Additional Resources

Spy Files (2008 resource): Today the government is spying on Americans in ways the founders of our country never could have imagined. Suspicionless sying on First Amendment-protected activity puts all Americans' free speech rights at risk.

MAP: Spying on First Amendment Activity State-by-State (2011 map): A thorough search and review of news accounts by the ACLU reveals that in over 30 states, Americans have been put under surveillance or harassed by the police just for deciding to organize, march, protest, espouse unusual viewpoints, and engage in normal, innocuous behaviors such as writing notes or taking photographs in public.

Ideological Exclusion (2007 resource): Under the Bush administration, the government regularly denied visas to foreign nationals whose political views it disfavored government. Once used to bar suspected Communists from entering the country, the practice of "ideological exclusion" was resurrected by the USA Patriot Act. Ideological exclusion violates Americans' First Amendment right to hear constitutionally protected speech by denying foreign scholars, artists, politicians and others entry to the U.S.

Freedom Under Fire: Dissent in Post-9/11 America (2003 PDF)

ACLU Releases Report on Suppression of Dissent in a Post 9/11 America (2003 press release)

Freedom Under Fire: Dissent in Post-9/11 America (2003 resource)

ACLU Testimony Before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations Regarding Censorship At the Borders (2006 resource)

Using "Terror" to Squash Dissent (2008 blog)

FBI Document Labels Michigan Affirmative Action and Peace Groups as Terrorists (2005 press release)

Statement - Caitlin Childs, Target of Illegal Spying (2006 resource)

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