Defending Free Speech Against Unconstitutional ‘Civility Codes’

Barron v. Kolenda et al.

In the fall of 2022, Pioneer Public Interest Law Center (PPILC), then known as Pioneer Legal, filed an amicus brief in the case of Barron v. Kolenda et al., pertaining to free speech rights at a public meeting in Southborough, Massachusetts. The brief  urged the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to hold that “civility codes” meant to govern the public’s participation at town meetings constitute viewpoint discrimination and, therefore, violate the sacrosanct right to free political expression enshrined in Articles 16 and 19 of the state’s Constitution. In a landmark decision on March 7, 2023, the SJC did just that. The scholarly opinion sent shock waves through municipal government circles and received national attention.

Exercising her Article 19 rights is just what appellant Louise Barron was attempting to do during the public comment portion of a Southborough town meeting when she was abruptly silenced and threatened with expulsion by town officials who claimed that her criticism of their repeated violations of the Open Meeting Law violated Southborough’s civility code. PPILC is delighted that our high court has made it absolutely clear that our democratic form of government was founded upon — and still depends upon — our right to freely criticize our leaders, and to seek redress of our grievances, without fear of retribution or unreasonable governmental restraints.


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PioneerLegal is a non-partisan, public interest law firm that defends and promotes educational options, accountable government and economic opportunity across the Northeast. PioneerLegal achieves its mission through legal research, amicus briefs, and litigation.