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First Amendment Blog

Trump's order violates bedrock principles of Roger Williams and RI

January 30th, 2017 by efitzpatrick

Jared A. Goldstein, RWU professor of law who teaches constitutional law, former U.S. Department of Justice attorney:

President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Friday, Jan. 27, that violates the bedrock principles upon which Roger Williams founded Rhode Island. I’ve always been proud to work at a university named for Roger Williams, whose commitment to religious liberty for all peoples formed the basis for our nation’s commitment to separation of church and state and its dedication to the principle that the government should never favor or disfavor any religion. The president’s order, however, prohibits the issuance of visas to anyone from one of seven specified predominately Muslim countries. The order also blocks entry by refugees from any of the seven countries. The order attempts to put into effect Trump’s campaign promise to ban immigration by Muslims and to close the door to Muslim refugees.

The First Amendment and public sector union "dues"

January 9th, 2017 by efitzpatrick

Michael J. Yelnosky, dean of the RWU School of Law and professor of law:

In all likelihood, sometime in 2017 a new U.S. Supreme Court justice will take the bench and fill the vacancy created by the death last year of Justice Antonin Scalia. Sometime thereafter, I am confident, the court will reverse almost 40 years of precedent and rule that the First Amendment prohibits provisions in public sector collective bargaining agreements requiring all covered employees to compensate the union for the costs associated with the union’s negotiation and administration of that agreement.

Moguls and the media

January 2nd, 2017 by efitzpatrick

David  A. Logan, professor of law and former dean of the RWU School of Law, who has studied and written extensively about First Amendment issues:

Among President-elect Donald Trump's many ill-informed campaign statements was that he was "going to open up libel laws." 

Where to begin? First, libel law was, and remains, state law. Second, while federal legislation does impact pockets of libel law (most notably, the Communications Decency Act protects websites from liability for merely hosting defamatory statements posted by third parties), the primary reason why politicians have trouble winning libel actions is not federal statutes but rather the First Amendment.  

RI can help build a free press in The Gambia

December 22nd, 2016 by efitzpatrick

Omar Bah, founder and executive director of the Refugee Dream Center, in Providence, who earned a master’s degree in public administration from RWU in 2014:

I only have to look at the bayonet scar on my left hand to remember how Gambian President Yahya Jammeh treats a free press: The dictator’s soldiers beat, kicked and tortured me when I attempted to cover a secret trial in The Gambia, my native country. And I barely escaped with my life, fleeing the smallest nation on the African mainland before finding refuge here in America’s smallest state.

I thought I would never set foot in The Gambia again. But Jammeh, the authoritarian president for the past 22 years, lost the presidential election on Dec. 1. While it remains unclear if he’s going to willingly step aside, I hope to establish a private, independent newspaper there.

Roger Williams has much yet to teach us

December 20th, 2016 by efitzpatrick

Taylor Stoermer, professor who teaches the history and modern practice of democracy at RWU and public history at Harvard University:

Roger Williams’ 413th birthday gives us the perfect opportunity to step back and ask “so what?” about his past and his present. It’s an especially appropriate occasion given the fractious nature of modern American politics, and something of a drift in our collective memory. But the perfect opportunity presented itself this semester when 75 undergraduate students at Roger Williams University actually became excited about a long and dry legal document written centuries ago, the Rhode Island Charter of 1663, and by Roger Williams himself. 

Blocking Women's March from key D.C. sites risks infringing on First Amendment rights

December 12th, 2016 by efitzpatrick

Jenna Wims Hashway, professor of legal practice at the RWU School of Law:

The president-elect’s respect for (and indeed, grasp of) First Amendment rights has been a source of concern for many.  Now, with the announcement that the National Park Service (on behalf of the Presidential Inauguration Committee) has issued a massive omnibus block permit — barring access to the National Mall and Lincoln Memorial for days or weeks before, during and after the inauguration — the right of peaceful assembly is also at risk. 

45 Words, 5 Freedoms, 1st Amendment: Add your voice

December 5th, 2016 by efitzpatrick

Edward Fitzpatrick, RWU director of media and public relations, New England First Amendment Coalition board member and former Providence Journal columnist:

Absolutely!

The 45 words in the First Amendment guarantee five freedoms: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble and freedom to petition the government. But those constitutional guarantees are paper thin if not defended and championed by each generation.

In his book “Freedom for the Thought We Hate,” Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Lewis noted that in 1798 (just seven years after the First Amendment was added to the Constitution), Congress passed a law punishing disrespectful comments about the president, and editors went to the hoosegow for mocking President John Adams. And a century later, men received 20 years in prison for criticizing a policy decision by President Woodrow Wilson.

Students could teach president-elect lesson in media law

December 4th, 2016 by efitzpatrick

Paola Prado, RWU associate professor of journalism and adviser to university's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists:

At the time of this writing, it’s been 130 days since the president-elect held a press conference.

This break from a 103-year tradition that dates back to Woodrow Wilson leaves members of the Washington press corps to read the tea leaves of realDonaldTrump tweets in search of clues as to the mindset of the next U.S. president.

When facts and news diverge

December 2nd, 2016 by efitzpatrick

David A. Logan, professor of law and former dean of the RWU School of Law who has studied and written extensively about First Amendment issues:  

Historically, what information was considered "news" and thus worth publishing was determined by a reporter or editor. The idea was that this provided a screen that would judge not just accuracy but also relevance and context. And indeed, many journalists worked hard to be unbiased in making these determinations, striving toward some version of the New York Times motto: “All the news that's fit to print.”

What Trump missed on First Amendment and flag burning

December 1st, 2016 by efitzpatrick

Michael J. Yelnosky, professor of law and dean of the RWU School of Law, spoke with Gene Valicenti on the WPRO radio station on Nov. 30 about the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in the case of Texas v. Johnson, which held that flag burning was a form of “symbolic speech” protected by the First Amendment. The issue flared to life on Nov. 29 with an early-morning tweet from President-elect Donald J. Trump, who wrote that, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”