ACLU of Mississippi, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Jack Williams sue Lafayette County, MS for Violating Resident’s Free Speech Rights
August 7, 2020
Jackson, Mississippi. The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP and attorney Jack Williams represent plaintiff John Rash, a documentary filmmaker, photographer, visual artist and educator based in Oxford, Mississippi.
As part of the annual Oxford Fringe Festival held in August, John organizes PROJECT(ion), an evening exhibit that displays projection art. John applied for a permit to project images on the Lafayette County Courthouse and on the confederate monument that stands on its lawn.
After John applied, Lafayette County closed the County Courthouse grounds entirely after dark. They then denied John’s permit.
“This complete closure, as well as other unreasonably burdensome restrictions on John’s use of a public forum like the County Courthouse grounds, is a textbook First Amendment violation,” said Joshua Tom, Legal Director at the ACLU of Mississippi. “Instead of restricting speech, it is Lafayette County’s obligation to ensure its residents can safely exercise their constitutional rights.”
After seeking emergency relief on July 31, 2020, the parties appeared before United States District Judge Neal B. Biggers, Jr., on August 5, 2020 for oral argument. Judge Biggers issued an opinion on August 6, 2020 denying John’s emergency relief.
“It’s extremely disappointing that this community event we have organized along with local artists for the past three years is no longer welcome at the center of Oxford’s Square,” said John Rash.
“While PROJECT(ion) will not be held on the County Courthouse grounds this year, we intend to continue the case on an expedited basis and a full record, so that the First Amendment rights of all Lafayette County residents are protected,” said Jonathan Youngwood, Partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP.
“Some have pointed to ‘tensions’ to justify stifling our fellow citizens’ speech. But tension is part of the robust civic discourse protected under the First Amendment. We intend to preserve that discourse,” said Jack Williams, an attorney based in Jackson and Oxford.