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ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE ACLU to HUD: The First Amendment Protects Your Critics; Let Us Help Safeguard The First Amendment Rights of Protesters For IMMEDIATE RELEASE Tuesday, August 16, 1994 The American Civil Liberties Union today called upon Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros to adopt guidelines promptly to ensure that the Fair Housing Act is not employed in violation of constitutionally-protected rights. Lawyers for the ACLU offered to meet with HUD officials to develop guidelines that would safeguard the First Amendment rights of individuals and community organizations under investigation by HUD. In a letter made public today, the ACLU expressed its concern that in at least two recent instances -- in Berkeley, California and in New York City -- it appears that, in enforcing Fair Housing law, HUD has overstepped the constitutional line by investigating community groups engaging in traditional forms of political protest against HUD practices. The ACLU pointed out that even the prospect of a Fair Housing Act investigation can have a "significant chilling effect on political protest." "The right of local residents to express publicly their objection to community-based housing in their neighborhood is clearly protected by the First Amendment, however much we or others may disagree with their opinion," the ACLU wrote. The letter described a statement from Secretary Cisneros on August 10 asserting his sensitivity to the First Amendment issues raised by recent HUD investigation as "a laudable first step, " but "an insufficient solution to the problem created by investigations based on First Amendment activity." The letter further questioned whether all HUD officials share Secretary Cisneros' concern for violations of the constitutional rights of HUD's critics. Published reports in The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle have described examples of investigations by HUD of community organizations opposed to the placement of group homes for the homeless or mentally disabled in their neighborhoods. In Berkeley, California, community activists opposed to a HUD plan to convert a local hotel into housing for the homeless first exercised traditional forms of public protest and then sought an injunction in state court to block the project. In response to a complaint by a housing rights group, HUD subsequently initiated an investigation, reportedly demanding the minutes of any public meetings, correspondence with the city, letters to the editor and any literature, posters and newsletters produced by the group about the conversion. Commenting on these practices in the letter to Cisneros, the ACLU said: "Nothing in the Fair Housing Act grants HUD such broad censorship authority, nor does the First Amendment permit it." In New York City, a community organization opposed to the placement of a group home for the mentally disabled in the Gramercy Park area has also been subject to a formal complaint and investigation by HUD. The ACLU plans to file an amicus curiae brief in support of the First Amendment rights of the Gramercy Park community organization. The ACLU has strongly supported the Fair Housing Act and specifically supports group homes for the homeless, mentally ill and those suffering from substance abuse, but maintains that Fair Housing Act enforcement must be consistent with the First Amendment. "The government can demand compliance with the law; it cannot demand public support for it," the letter concluded. Signed by the ACLU's national Legal Director, Steven R. Shapiro, New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Norman Siegel, NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg and Anne Brick, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, the letter was sent to Secretary Cisneros on Monday evening. --endit-- ============================================================= ACLU Free Reading Room | A publications and information resource of the gopher:// | American Civil Liberties Union National Office | | "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"


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