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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
"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
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.
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