Articles Tagged with first amendment

When two legal rights collide, how does the court pick a side? The United States Supreme Court’s ruling on June 4, 2018, in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, made it clear that it is not an easy decision. Today’s Long Island civil rights blog discusses whether a baker can rightfully turn down a gay couple’s request to design their wedding cake if the baker’s religion does not accept gay marriage.

Freedom of speech and religion are two important civil liberties protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Freedom of speech extends to both traditional verbal speech, and expressive conduct also known as symbolic speech. Burning a flag and wearing a t-shirt opposing a political leader are two examples of symbolic speech.

Conduct remains at the heart of symbolic speech claims. Thoughts, ideas, and opinions are powerful and courts have decided to protect them in certain scenarios. However, the conduct’s offensiveness or irrationality can never be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not the conduct deserves First Amendment protection.

On April 25, 2018, Long Island civil rights lawyer Matthew Weinick led a discussion about First and Second Amendment rights at a meeting of the League of Women Voters.  The meeting, held at the Levittown Library, was well attended by both organization members and the general public.

According to its website, the League of Women Voters is a “grassroots organization.”  Earlier this year, the group contacted the Nassau County Bar Association looking for a volunteer lawyer to speak about civil rights.  Civil rights lawyer and bar association member Matthew Weinick responded to the request and the discussion was scheduled.

At the meeting, Weinick discussed First Amendment and Second Amendment rights.  Weinick tried to keep these hot button issues away from politics and spoke about these rights from a legal viewpoint, discussing the way courts have interpreted the amendments.  Weinick used recent court decisions relating to sexual orientation discrimination and gun regulation to show how courts interpret the Constitution.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects several rights, including the freedom of speech.  Indeed, the text of the Amendment reads “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.”  Like most Constitutional rights, the freedom of speech is not limitless and the level of Constitutional protection speech may be afforded depends, sometimes, on where the speech is made. Courts have interpreted the freedom of speech to apply to a variety of forums, including books, public streets, and, in some cases, public buildings.  Today’s civil rights blog discusses the collision between a centuries old document and 21st century technology – twitter.

Public Forums vs. Non-Public Forums

Throughout the course of U.S. history, the country’s courts have been called upon to interpret the meaning of the Constitution and its Amendments.  As First Amendment law has developed, it’s become understood that public spaces can fall into one of three types of forums — a public forum, a public forum by designation, and a non-public forum.  The level of First Amendment rights a person has in a public space is dependent on which of these types of forum the public space is classified as.

The First Amendment protects many important rights, including the right of assembly. Like other First Amendment rights, however, this right is not absolute. On June 8, 2017, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided a case about how far a public school can go in limiting one’s right of assembly.


In Johnson v. Perry, decided by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on June 8, 0217, the plaintiff Johnson’s daughter, “ JD,” wanted to play basketball for the school’s junior varsity team instead of the varsity team because she felt she was being treated unfairly and wanted more playing time. After the change, Perry, the school principal, repeatedly took JD out of her classes and tried to bully JD into staying on the varsity team. When JD’s parents found out Perry was bullying JD, they requested a meeting. The meeting turned out to be a screaming match between Johnson and Perry. A few days later, Johnson received an email from the school informing him that he was banned from the school premises, including sporting events both on and off campus, because he was considered a threat to the staff and students. Johnson brought a section 1983 action which allows lawsuits for violations of constitutional rights. The main issue in the case was whether Perry had violated Johnson’s First Amendment right of assembly.

Many of New York’s public employees are protected by Section 75 of the Civil Service Law.  Public employees include employees of the state, counties, towns, villages, cities, and special districts such as fire districts, library districts, sanitation districts, and school districts.  The employment lawyers on Long Island of Famighetti & Weinick are experienced in Section 75 proceedings and may be able to help you understand your rights.

Section 75 Protections

Section 75 sets forth protections for certain public employees.  Section 75 prohibits the discipline or termination of a public employee except for incompetence or misconduct.  Thus, the law alters the traditional at-will employment rule by which employees can usually be terminated for any reason, as long as the reason is not illegal, such as discrimination.

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