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ACLU Files Free Speech Lawsuit on Behalf of Anti-war T-shirt Maker

PHOENIX, AZ – The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona today filed a lawsuit in federal court, charging that a recently-enacted Arizona state law criminalizing the sale of anti-war t-shirts violates the First Amendment.

At issue is Senate Bill 1014 which prohibits 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 law, which was passed unanimously by both chambers in the Arizona Legislature, was specifically intended to prevent Flagstaff activist Dan R. Frazier from selling t-shirts featuring the names of the troops who died in Iraq. Governor Janet Napolitano signed the bill into law on May 21, 2007 as an “emergency measure that is necessary to preserve the public peace, health or safety.”

“This new law is not only an attempt to take away my First Amendment rights, but it is also an attempt to take away the rights of every American who wants to make a powerful statement about the war,” said Frazier, 41, who has sold 2,200 anti-war t-shirts over the past two years. “A vote in support of this law was a vote to sweep the names of the fallen under the carpet and simultaneously take away one of the very rights many of the soldiers believed they were fighting to defend.”

Frazier, a former newspaper editor and writer, has been selling bumper stickers and t-shirts with political slogans for four years through his on-line store Frazier sells three anti-war t-shirts that list the names of the deceased soldiers, including one with the phrase: “Bush Lied … They Died” and one stating “Support our Remaining Troops … Bring the Rest Home Alive.” He donates $1 from all of the anti-war shirts to an organization that benefits families of the fallen soldiers, and has been doing so since the t-shirts were first manufactured.

“These t-shirts, like many of Frazier’s products, are designed and sold to prominently display an anti-war message and to have this message reach the public and contribute to the public debate over the war in Iraq,” wrote ACLU of Arizona cooperating attorney Lee Phillips, an attorney from Flagstaff who is serving as lead counsel in the litigation.

In its lawsuit, the ACLU points out that the names of soldiers killed in Iraq are already matters of public record and can be accessed by private citizens in numerous ways. By requiring Frazier to seek permission from family members to print the names of the soldiers, and carving out exemptions for art, books or films, the legislation is targeting him on the basis of the anti-war content of his message. As noted in the lawsuit, the t-shirts are produced and bought because of the political message that is in bold and large letters on the shirt, and not because of the newsprint-size name of any one of the almost 3,500 soldiers.

“This was an attempt by elected officials to stifle fundamental rights of political speech, and to keep the expression of sentiments that personalize the damage done by the war in Iraq out of the public discourse,” said Daniel Pochoda, Legal Director of the ACLU of Arizona. “The fact that the shirts are for sale is immaterial to free speech protections outlined in the Bill of Rights, especially since the very purpose of selling the t-shirts is to change policies related to the Iraq war.”

In addition to Phillips and Pochoda, attorneys Charles Babbitt and Natalie Jacobs, of the Law Office of Lee Phillips, also are serving as counsel in this case. The lawsuit, Frazier vs. Boomsma et al., was filed today in federal district court in Phoenix. The case number is: CV07-1274.

The complaint is available here.

(This was an ACLU Press Release)

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