Peace Activist's Free Speech Rights Protected

Affiliate: ACLU of Tennessee
May 7, 2010 12:00 am

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Federal Court Dismisses $40 Billion Suit


GREENVILLE, TN – In a case that reinforced Americans’ right to criticize the government, a federal court this week dismissed a lawsuit against peace activist Dan Frazier, who was being sued for selling anti-war t-shirts over the Internet. The ruling ensures that Frazier, who was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN), will be able to exercise his First Amendment right to free speech by continuing to sell political t-shirts.

Frazier, based in Flagstaff, AZ, created a shirt that criticized then President Bush with the phrase “Bush Lied…They Died” superimposed over the names of 4,058 troops killed in the Iraq War. Through his on-line store, Frazier sells the t-shirts and contributes a portion of each sale to an organization that benefits families of fallen soldiers. The parents of a soldier listed on the shirt filed a lawsuit in 2008 seeking over $40 billion in damages. The suit also sought to force Mr. Frazier to remove the names of the troops from his t-shirts.

“In America, we honor our servicemen and women when we defend First Amendment liberties,” said Tennessee National Guard Staff Sergeant and two-time Iraq veteran John W. Heacock. “Soldiers swear an oath to defend the Constitution, and by upholding these hard-earned freedoms, even when that may be unpopular, we honor that commitment and the many sacrifices of our men and women in uniform.”

Judge Ronnie Greer wrote, “The defendants are correct that exercising free speech in criticizing the government is not outrageous…The views expressed by the defendants may be unpopular and even offensive to some people, but they do not rise to the level of legal outrageous conduct.” The Court further found that Frazier did not use soldiers’ names to endorse or encourage others to buy the shirts, but “to make a political statement, which is an exercise of free speech.”

“Our sympathy goes out to the families of fallen soldiers,” said Tricia Herzfeld, ACLU-TN Staff Attorney. “But this case goes beyond this particular shirt to the larger issue of chilling protected political speech. We cannot let our emotions jeopardize the free speech rights of Mr. Frazier or others who want to speak out against the war.”

Mr. Frazier’s free speech rights have been under attack since 2007 when the Arizona State Legislature passed a law prohibiting the use of the name of any solider, alive or deceased, on any item for sale without permission of the soldier or a legal representative. The ACLU of Arizona filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Frazier and successfully challenged the constitutionality of the statute.

The case, Robin Read, et al. v. Lifeweaver, LLC, et al., was heard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.

A copy of the opinion can be found here:

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