NEFAC, ACLU to Nashua Officials: Repeal Unconstitutional Civility Ordinance

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition recently demanded that an ordinance prohibiting offensive speech during Nashua, N.H., town meetings be repealed, calling the restriction a violation of the state’s constitution.

The Nashua Board of Aldermen last year enacted an ordinance that bans “crude, vulgar, profane and/or obscene remarks.”

In a May 5 letter sent to the board, NEFAC and the ACLU of New Hampshire explained that the city “cannot constitutionally prohibit speech that is crude, vulgar, uncivil, or profane.” Doing so, the groups wrote, would violate the right of New Hampshire citizens to peaceably assemble to petition their elected representatives.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in March found unconstitutional a similar “civility code” under its state’s Declaration of Rights. Part I, Article 32, of the New Hampshire Constitution is nearly identical to the provision of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights at issue in the case, and the New Hampshire Supreme Court gives special deference to decisions of the Supreme Judicial Court that interpret identical provisions.

The Massachusetts court held that the content sought to be prohibited — “discourteous, rude, disrespectful, or personal speech about government officials and governmental actions” — was clearly protected and the prohibition was impermissible. The same reasoning applies to the Nashua ordinance, the groups explained, and the restriction must be repealed.

NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government. All coalition briefs, letters and statements can be found here.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Leadership Circle donors include the Rhode Island Foundation, Hearst Connecticut Media Group, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, and the Robertson Foundation. Major Supporters include Boston University, the Academy of New England Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation, Genie Gannett for the First Amendment Museum, Linda Pizzuti Henry, the Champa Charitable Foundation Fund, Connecticut Public and GBH-Boston.