Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression Joins ACLU on briefRoanoke, VA-- The ACLU of Virginia and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression filed a friend-of-the-court brief yesterday arguing that a federal court order requiring the removal of a website criticizing Hargrave Military Academy should not be extended because it violates the First Amendment.
The two Virginia non-profit organizations filed their brief after learning that a U.S. District Court judge in Roanoke issued a temporary restraining order on May 8 requiring that the parents of a student expelled from Hargrave Military Academy take down their website, HargraveHasProblems.com, in its entirety. The judge’s ruling came after the Chatham, Virginia, military academy filed a lawsuit claiming that the website defamed the school and unlawfully interfered with its ability to conduct business. Hargrave now seeks to extend the order.
In their brief, the ACLU and the Thomas Jefferson Center contend that the restraining order violates free speech because it was issued before the parents had been given a chance to argue their side of the case. The organizations ask the judge to dissolve the existing order and not extend it.
“The court’s order is extraordinary, a bad sign of our times,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “Our freedom depends first and foremost on free speech. Judges are allowed to curb speech only as a last resort and then under the most carefully and narrowly controlled circumstances.”
“Wiping out an entire website because one party doesn’t like what it says simply does not comport with our understanding of free expression in this country,” added Willis.
The court is scheduled to hold a preliminary injunction hearing tomorrow in which both sides will be heard. The ACLU and the Thomas Jefferson Center brief argues that in matters involving free speech the scales should tip in favor of the right of individuals to express their opinions, and that courts should only restrain speech after a full trial in which the complaining party proves that the speech violates the law. Tomorrow’s hearing is not a full trial.
The ACLU and the Thomas Jefferson Center brief can be found at www.acluva.org. The ACLU and Thomas Jefferson Center do not represent the parents directly. The case is Hargrave Military Academy v. Jerry Guyles and Melissa Guyles.
Kent Willis or ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg-- 804/644-8022