NEFAC REPORT | August 2017
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The New England First Amendment Coalition provides the three-day investigative journalism workshop each year to 25 journalists working within the region. The institute is provided to these journalism fellows at no cost and features many of the country's elite investigative reporters, editors and media attorneys.

NEFAC is calling on the City of Boston and its law enforcement leaders to revise their policies for future assemblies to better allow speech - however offensive - to be heard by the public, particularly by those in the media. The coalition provides several suggestions below that if followed would help protect First Amendment rights in Boston, an historic bastion of free speech, while also preserving the ability of police to prevent violence.

NEFAC is co-sponsoring a hotline for journalists covering this weekend's events. Media lawyers from Prince Lobel Tye will be offering pro bono legal assistance to print, broadcast and online journalists. The New England Newspaper & Press Association and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press are also sponsoring the hotline. NEFAC also partnered with 28 national press advocates and media organizations to create an online repository for reports of attacks against the press. [...]

We must hold fast to the free speech rights enshrined in the First Amendment, realizing that moments like these are the true test. At moments like this, we must resist the urge to squelch and silence the bigotry and bile. We must have faith that the best way to counter the hate is to speak up, to protest, to vote, to shape public policy to reflect our values.  [...]

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in an Aug. 4 press conference a more aggressive effort by the Trump Administration to investigate leaks by government employees. Part of this effort, Sessions said, is to reconsider the guidelines limiting ways journalists are subpoenaed and forced to reveal their sources. "Those guidelines are in place to help protect journalists and the right of all Americans to know what their government is doing," said Justin Silverman, NEFAC's executive director. "Any plan to weaken those protections threatens our ability to gather news and hold elected leaders accountable."  [...] 

In what may be the first case of its kind, a federal judge in Virginia recently ruled that a politician violated the constitutional rights of a constituent by banning that constituent from his personal Facebook account. "The suppression of critical commentary regarding elected officials is the quintessential form of viewpoint discrimination against which the First Amendment guards," wrote the judge.  [...]


The New England First Amendment Coalition recently expressed concern about a U.S. Justice Department request for information from a protest-organizing website, calling the request "sweeping" and in conflict with core American values. In an Aug. 24 letter - drafted by OpenTheGovernment - NEFAC and more than 70 public interest organizations explained the First Amendment implications of the request and shared their concerns that the Justice Department still considers the original request legal and appropriate.  [...] 

On June 30, an epic impasse between Rhode Island House and Senate leaders left the state's $9.2-billion budget in limbo along with scores of other pieces of legislation. But amid the State House's marble maze of power politics and clashing priorities, two bills managed to emerge at the last minute that will bolster press freedom and create a more open government.  [...]

The Private Prison Information Act of 2017 (S.1728) would strengthen accountability and oversight by requiring non-federal prison, correctional, and detention facilities holding federal prisoners or detainees under a contract with the federal government to make the same information available to the public as is required of federal prisons and correctional facilities by FOIA.  [...] 

Colleges across the nation are struggling to find a balance between free expression and the safety and comfort of their students. With violent protests leading to the cancellation of events, the creation of safe spaces and trigger warnings and reports revealing students' complicated viewpoints on speech, the First Amendment and the principles it embodies have been at the forefront in recent months.  [...]

Alex Morin, a now-former firefighter, posted several relatively benign comments on a community Facebook page and lost his job as a result. The ACLU of New Hampshire is now fighting on behalf of Morin's First Amendment rights, calling his termination unconstitutional.  [...]

Donoghue, a former reporter for the Burlington Free Press, will receive a "Friend of Scholastic Journalism" award from the Journalism Education Association. The award is in recognition of Donoghue's work on behalf of NEFAC and other press advocates to pass legislation making it easier for high school and college students to report on controversial stories without fear of retaliation.  [...] 

FILE FREE FOI REQUEST     CT     MA     ME     NH     RI     VT   

            Hate Speech, First Amendment
            Leaks, Journalism
            Protest Rights, Anonymity
            Voter Commission, Public Records Law
            Public Officials, Social Media

            Boston Common Protest
            MBTA, Public Records

            Voter Commission, Public Records Law
            Pawtucket Police, APRA
            Panhandling, First Amendment
            Attorney General, Transparency   
            Access to Police Records
            Open Courts

Major Supporters and Contributors to the 
New England First Amendment Coalition this year include:

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