ACLU and New Mexico Health Department Reach Agreement in Employee Free Speech Case

Affiliate: ACLU of New Mexico
July 26, 2006 12:00 am

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SANTA FE, NM — Employees at the Santa Fe office of the New Mexico Department of Health now have a place to post materials expressing their opinions about the Iraq war and other important topics, thanks to a legal agreement obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico.

“This is a small, but important victory,” said ACLU Executive Director Peter Simonson. “These days, free speech is under unusual threat when it criticizes the government’s policies in the Middle East. It’s critical that we hold the line wherever government oversteps its authority to control what others say and think.”

According to the agreement, the department will erect a specially designated bulletin board in the atrium of the Runnels Building where employees can “post matters of public interest.”

The agreement results from a lawsuit that the ACLU filed on behalf of DOH employee Judith Harmon in October 2005 after she was ordered to remove materials that were critical of the war in Iraq from her office window. In return for the bulletin board, Harmon agreed not to place any more materials on her office window.

“Even though the Runnels Building is government property, the atrium area functions like an open public forum,” said Simonson. “In such areas, the government can place reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on what people express, but it can’t broadly eliminate speech or discriminate on the basis of the content of one’s speech.”

Attorneys for the ACLU included Santa Fe lawyer Julie Sakura, of Lopez, Sakura, and Boyd, LLP.

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