Free Speech Lawsuit Settled for $75,000

The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech to all people, even if you don’t agree with what they’re saying.  The town of South Hadley in Massachusetts learned that the hard way, as they have paid out a large sum of money for attempting to silence a critic at a public school board meeting in April, 2010.  Luke Gelinas was at the meeting to read a prepared statement in which he criticized the school board’s inaction regarding the bullying of a student — inaction which may have led to the student’s suicide.  According to the Boston Globe, Gelinas was interrupted by school board member Edward Boisselle, who told him “you’re done” and explicitly said “this is not your First Amendment right”.  In fact, it was not only Gelinas’s right to speak at a meeting with public officials, but I would also argue that it is Boisselle’s duty to uphold that right.  Gelinas was escorted out of the meeting, but wasn’t finished.  He filed a complaint and has waged a two-year legal battle to affirm his rights.  Today, via a settlement of $75,000, he has been vindicated.

What kind of country would we be if all detractors and critics and informed intellectuals were silenced by those in power and led out of the room for holding an unpopular opinion?  Well, we’d be 18th-century Britain.  This is exactly the reason the Declaration of Independence was written.  “Taxation without representation”, a popular phrase at the time, was really more about how the British government refused to listen to the needs of the colonists.  The Americans were, to draw a parallel to this case, told to leave and that they did not have the right to speak freely in Parliament.  In response, they waged a revolution, built a new country, and the rest is history.  While I’m not about to recommend breaking ties with South Hadley and forming a new city, I will posit this case as a reminder that the Bill of Rights is a document crafted to protect the people of the US from their government, and this is precisely why.

3 comments on “Free Speech Lawsuit Settled for $75,000

  1. Holly Colino on said:

    This happened to me in college. I was physically and verbally harrassed after I spoke out my first amendment right becasue the college and one teacher made it mandatory that students attend a religious event along with Roman cathlocism ads being put up on the bill boards. It was tapped too. I was accused of threatening the life of another?! I was harrassed int he hall as well. Students actually cheered me on as I spoke. It was no where near me being threatening other than them not liking that fact that I said, “For the love of Humanity and justice.” I stated facts and for other students to get he facts, use logic and reason.

  2. Holly Colino on said:

    Excuse the typos.

  3. Holly Colino on said:

    It is also typical for any guilty defendent to practice oppostion resistance. Unsubstantiated accusations, verbal attacks, and advocating for causes to build a facade are all examples. EX. An organization that has broken their own sexual harassment policy may hold an event advocating for the victims of sexual or psychological harassment if the organization is guilty of sexual harassment, psychological harassment or allowing those activities on the premise to affect a victim and do nothing for the victim. The accusations, verbal or written attacks are tactics a guilty party may use to try to emotionally provoke you and discredit you as an attempt to get out of a criminal charge or law suit. Stay calm, and be patient.