In a case with precedential value for internet free speech, National Lawyers Guild members Larry Hildes of Bellingham, Washington, Devin Theriot-Orr of Seattle, and Mark Sniderman of Indiana successfully defended several activists who received subpoenas from Mt. Hope Baptist Church demanding they turn over their internet account records. Federal judge Richard A. Jones ruled that technology collective Riseup.net did not have to turn over the records. Riseup.net provides online communication tools for individuals and groups working for social change.
Mt. Hope Baptist Church subpoenaed the records of several Riseup.net users alleged to have taken part in a 2008 protest. They were members of the queer rights group Bash Back! which disrupted a 2008 Sunday Service at the conservative Mount Hope Church in Lansing, Michigan. Months later, the church and the Alliance Defense Fund, a reactionary Christian nonprofit organization, sued Bash Back! and named 15 activists under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. The church and Alliance Defense Fund subpoenaed identifying information from dozens of emails addresses; Risup.net was the only email provider to challenge the subpoenas.
“This was a major victory for the rights of those engaged in political action or supporting those who are to freely associate safe from the prying eyes of the government, corporations, and fundamentalist churches and law firms. We are proud to have successfully defended this challenge, which is essential to effective political organizing, and proud to have worked with Riseup to do so,” commented Larry Hildes after the victory. Attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund representing Mt. Hope Baptist Church claimed that the Riseup.net users did not deserve protection because their speech was not “patriotic” free speech.
“To assert that some speech is unpatriotic and therefore unworthy of full First Amendment protection is an affront to this nation’s venerated principles of fostering robust debate,” said NLG Executive Director Heidi Boghosian.
The National Lawyers Guild, founded in 1937, is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state.