ACLU of Washington: Ruling Blocks City of Selah from Censoring Black Lives Matter-Related Speech

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
June 7, 2021 11:30 am

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SELAH, Wash. – A federal court has temporarily blocked the city of Selah, Washington from enforcing three provisions of its municipal code, after finding that the Selah Alliance for Equality (SAFE) would likely succeed in proving its claims that the provisions are unconstitutional as currently written. SAFE filed a lawsuit against the city of Selah and city officials in December after members of the group and other city residents had their free speech censored. City officials erased chalk messages and confiscated and destroyed signs that showed support for racial equality, the Black Lives Matter movement, and police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

Plaintiffs in the case felt that city officials’ actions indicated exercising free speech to support racial equality was unwelcome in the city, and claimed the city selectively enforced its provisions and removed SAFE’s signs in retaliation for their messages. As a result of the ruling, the city of Selah is temporarily barred from enforcing provisions that:

  • Require Selah residents to obtain a permit to post a sign, or govern how residents may obtain such a permit,
  • Provide exceptions for the permit rule, including for political signs,
  • Ban all freestanding signs from public areas in Selah

SAFE and attorneys representing the organization and Selah residents had these reactions to the ruling:

“We are very pleased the court sided with us and will keep Selah from enforcing these unconstitutional provisions as the case continues. Selah residents, like all Americans, deserve the right to express their free speech, even if elected officials disagree with the message,” said Kalah James, member and administrator of SAFE and a Selah resident.

“The ruling sends a clear message that the people of Selah have every right to express their views the way they want, and the city has to stop violating that right immediately. The First Amendment is essential for a functioning democracy, and we’re relieved the court sided with the constitution,” said Joseph P. Cutler, attorney at Perkins Coie LLP.

“This is a victory for everyone who believes in the importance of the First Amendment and the freedom of speech. Government officials must focus on protecting that crucial aspect of our democracy, not look for ways to sidestep it because they disagree with someone’s message,” said Antoinette Davis, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Washington.

The plaintiffs are represented by Joseph P. Cutler, Carolyn Gilbert, Reina Almon-Griffin, Jane E. Carmody, and Roxanne Degens of Perkins Coie LLP; and Antoinette Davis, Nancy Talner, and Crystal Pardue of the ACLU of Washington.

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