September 23, 2004

Flint, MI — The American Civil Liberties Union is investigating a complaint filed on behalf of city employees after the mayor issued an executive order banning the storage, possession, or reading of newspapers, magazines, and other reading materials unrelated to city business. A ban of this kind violates the First Amendment rights of city employees and those who disseminate constitutionally protected reading materials.

The complaint was made after Mayor Don Williamson had a Flint Journal carrier arrested this week for failing to disclose the names of subscribers to the Flint Journal at city offices. The mayor had previously called for a boycott of the Flint Journal shortly after his election last year. 

“We are concerned whenever a governmental agency bans the reading of constitutionally protected material,” said Gregory T. Gibbs, Chair of the Greater Flint ACLU branch.  “It has long been the law of this land that government employees do not lose their constitutional right to free speech at the workplace door.” 

According to the ACLU, the language of the order could be used to justify selective enforcement. For example, although the language allows city employees to read newspapers, magazines, and other reading materials related to city business while at work, the Mayor may find that reading a newspaper article critical of Mr. Williamson in his capacity as mayor is a violation of his executive order even though it concerns “city business.”

“A government entity has the power to regulate what its employee does while working, the courts have not extended that power to allow government to absolutely censor all protected reading material,” Gibbs added. “This order crosses the line.”

Employees or distributors of reading material who believe their rights have been violated by this executive order may contact the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan or the Greater Flint Branch for assistance.