Civil Rights

Enforced Patriotism

Baseball fan Bradford Campeau-Laurion has settled a lawsuit where he claimed he was kicked out of Yankee Stadium in August 2008 by two police officers because he left his seat to use the bathroom during the 7th inning stretch as "God Bless America" was playing.

In April 2009, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on his behalf against the Yankees, the police and the city. The lawsuit alleged violation of his civil rights. The suit asked for money damages and a ruling to stop the Yankees from requiring people to participate in religious or political activities.

The city offered to pay the fan $10,001 and to also pay his attorneys' fees and costs to the New York Civil Liberties Union Foundation in the amount of $12,000. The Yankees are not required to pay any money to the fan, but they stated in settlement papers that fans at the team's new stadium don't have restrictions imposed upon their moving about during the playing of "God Bless America" and they have no intention of creating such a policy.

Playing of "God Bless America" began after 9/11

After the September 11th terrorist attacks, Major League Baseball directed teams to play "God Bless America" before the bottom of the seventh inning at every game. This practice was discontinued in some cities in the following seasons, but remained a part of Yankees games.

Free Speech and the First Amendment

Forcing fans to stay put during the playing of "God Bless America" arguably forces fans to participate in an act in violation of the First Amendment protection against compelled expression.

TheĀ First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is a part of the Bill of Rights, states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

State Action Requirement

Although the First Amendment explicitly applies only to Congress, the Supreme Court has held that First Amendment limitations also apply to states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. Thus, the restrictions against the Freedom of Speech apply to both state and federal attempts to limit the right.

What Constitutes Speech

The word "speech" in the First Amendment has been broadened by courts and now applies to different forms of expression, such as verbal, non-verbal, visual and symbolic speech.

Exceptions to Freedom of Expression

Some expressions are not protected as free speech. This is true when free speech clashes with other important social values. Expressions that are restricted are those that are obscene, cause harm to the reputation of another person, cause a panic, inflict injury or incite an immediate breach of the peace, incite someone to commit a crime, advocate unlawful conduct against the government or constitute the establishment of religion.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What is considered "speech" under the First Amendment?
  • Does the government have to be involved for there to be a violation of the First Amendment?
  • Are there exceptions to the First Amendment protection of speech?
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