The right to petition our government is one of the core freedoms enshrined by the First Amendment. That’s why we filed suit on behalf of state court system contract attorney Casey Copeland who lost his state contract after contacting his state legislator to express his opinion on a bill that would bar transgender youth from receiving gender affirming health care.
As a child welfare law specialist certified by the National Association of Counsel for Children, every year Casey advocates for kids across Arkansas. Since 2012, he’s worked to protect the rights, well-being, and opportunities of all children in the Arkansas child welfare system, often representing children facing dependency and neglect. So, it was no surprise that when he learned about House Bill 1570, he felt a moral obligation to express the harm it would cause for youth across the state.
On March 30, 2021, Casey sent an email to his state representative, the Honorable Charlene Fite, stating:
I just wanted to say how ashamed I am of you for sponsoring and supporting HB1570. Not only does this bill put lives in danger, it fully illustrates the arrogance of you and your party to think that you have the authority to dictate such personal matters. I truly hope and expect the federal courts will strike down this ridiculous law as soon as possible.
Casey D. Copeland
Casey had previously corresponded as a constituent with his representative on other matters without any adverse reactions or controversy. Less than two days after sending this email, however, Casey was notified his state contract would be terminated. The early termination of his contract came without explanation and without any expressed concern about his performance.
The ACLU filed suit because government retaliation for constitutionally-protected speech--is a violation of Casey’s constitutional rights, and a threat to every Arkansans’ right to freedom of speech and expression. That is why our team is fighting to safeguard the fundamental right to free speech for Arkansans like Casey — because no one should be afraid of speaking their mind to their elected representative on issues that impact their friends, family, and state.
State legislators may not like hearing from constituents who are unhappy with their actions, but they can’t use the power of the state to retaliate against people because they disagree with them on a certain issue.
We must hold our state leaders accountable and fight together to protect our first amendment rights. It will take all of us to make sure our most fundamental and sacred rights are protected.