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Friday, July 16, 2010

Open meetings law threat or guard to free speech rights?

from the Austin American-Statesman:

Seventeen elected officials and four Texas cities, including Pflugerville, have asked a federal judge to scrap the state's Open Meetings Act, arguing that their free speech rights trump the law that requires most government business to be conducted in public.

The officials say the Texas law stifles "uninhibited, robust and wide-open" debate on public issues — the opposite effect intended by the U.S. Constitution's free-speech protection. They say they should not have to forfeit their First Amendment freedoms when taking public office.

But in a case that raises concern in other states with open-government laws, defenders of the Open Meetings Act say the case should be thrown out because the officials are seeking to protect secret speech, not free speech.

"The First Amendment protects citizens against government oppression — not government against citizen oversight," Texas Solicitor General James Ho wrote in legal briefs. "Openness in government is a First Amendment virtue, not a First Amendment violation."

Read the rest here.

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