May 25, 2021 – Free Speech & Peace

Civil Liberties Organizations: The People Protecting Your Fundamental Rights in America


The history of the United States shows that robust civil liberties (the right to free speech, to peaceable assembly, to free exercise of religion, among others) create the conditions for people to drive reform, discovery, and innovation. For this reason, the Charles Koch Foundation has long-supported research and educational initiatives on civil liberties.

Our country’s recent experiences confirm the importance of this work. Censorship and shifts in popular sentiments, especially during times of crisis, can lead to the erosion of civil liberties and cause significant harm. Below is a short sampling of organizations the Charles Koch Foundation has supported over the years who study and defend foundational freedoms.

“The right to engage in peaceful demonstration is a cornerstone of American democracy,” states New York University School of Law’s Policing Project. When Americans took to the streets in the summer of 2020 to protest the murder of George Floyd, the Policing Project’s scholars studied and identified best practices to help law enforcement protect public safety as well people’s right to peacefully protest, even amidst a pandemic.

Stanford Law School’s Religious Liberty Clinic represented an individual who claimed to have been fired from a government job for refusing to take a loyalty oath; it also defended clergy confidentiality and advocated for individuals serving time in jail. The Clinic’s scholars have successfully represented Muslims who were placed on the No Fly List for refusing to be government informants. The clinic is the only academic program in the United States that offers aspiring law students full-time, first-chair experience representing clients facing obstacles in exercising their faith.

New York University’s First Amendment Watch produced “A Citizen’s Guide to Recording Police,” which informs citizens of their right to record the police in public places. “The First Amendment right to record public officials such as the police performing their official duties in public is central to our democracy. Without the ability to document and disseminate such information, citizens would lack an indispensable tool for keeping the public informed, and for holding their leaders accountable.”

The Pacific Legal Foundation represented property owners in Michigan and other states who had property forfeited because of underpaid taxes. In the cases of Uri Rafaeli and Erica Perez this amounted to $8.41 and $144 respectively in unpaid taxes. In response to these small debts, Oakland County and Wayne County foreclosed on both properties, sold them, and kept the profits. Both citizens sued, with Rafaeli filing his application for leave of appeal in late 2017, and Perez filing her complaint in July 2019. The Michigan Supreme Court sided with Rafaeli in July 2020, declaring that the state’s takings clause prevented counties from selling property and keeping the proceeds to cover unpaid tax debts. Perez’s case remains ongoing in the Wayne County Circuit Court.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, whose mission is to defend the freedoms of speech and the press in the digital age, is challenging the U.S. Department of Justice’s refusal to release Office of Legal Counsel opinions. The Institute argues in a lawsuit that OCL opinions are public records that should be made available to citizens, who have a vested stake in how the OCL shapes the bounds of executive power.

The New Civil Liberties Alliance works to protect due process, free speech, and the right to privacy from threats on another front: administrative action. In October 2018, NCLA filed a complaint on behalf of Raul Mas Canosa, a resident of Coral Gables, Florida, who is suing the city, the Florida Department of State, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement because of their use of Automatic License Plate Readers. In addition to violating the right to privacy under the Florida and U.S. Constitution, license plate readers are ineffective as a public-safety resource.

At the forefront of these and related critical issues, our partners work to protect civil liberties and facilitate dialogue that leads to social progress. Consistent with the vision of people like ACLU founder Roger Baldwin, this includes defending people and ideas that those in power or in the majority see as unpopular, unworthy, or even irresponsible. Learn more about how you can partner with us to drive discovery and open inquiry.

The Charles Koch Foundation partners with social entrepreneurs to drive societal progress through academic research and innovations that help all learners unlock their potential.