LITTLE ROCK – On Thursday, during a community event hosted by the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission in Little Rock, alarming reports emerged of Little Rock Police Department officers threatening to arrest volunteers lawfully gathering signatures on public property. These volunteers, engaging in the fundamental democratic process of petitioning, were told by police that such activities were prohibited by a directive from Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

This directive not only misuses public resources to stifle constitutionally protected speech but also manipulates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by using the commission established in his honor to silence advocacy and suppress voter engagement. Such actions are antithetical to the values of democracy and civil rights that Dr. King championed.

The ACLU of Arkansas is deeply concerned about the Governor’s office using its power to hinder the constitutional rights of Arkansans to engage in free speech and participate in direct democracy, especially as it relates to pressing issues like education reform, public transparency, and reproductive rights, among others. The right to petition and the free exchange of ideas are foundational to our democracy and must be protected against any form of governmental overreach.

Governor Sanders and the MLK Commission should immediately cease the suppression of free speech and voter engagement activities and affirm their commitment to upholding the constitutional rights of all Arkansans. Law enforcement must respect and protect the rights of all individuals to engage in peaceful democratic processes without fear of unwarranted interference or arrest.

The ACLU of Arkansas defends the rights of all people to participate fully in the democratic process and will continue to monitor this situation closely, prepared to take any necessary action to ensure that these fundamental freedoms are not infringed upon.

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