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August 23, 2023

August 23, 2023 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, in an effort to protect the free speech rights of Tennesseans wishing to engage peacefully in the democratic process, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee filed a lawsuit on behalf of three Tennesseans who were forced to leave a Tennessee House subcommittee hearing by state troopers for quietly holding 8 ½ x 11 inch pieces of paper  expressing their opinions on issues before the subcommittee. 

“These rules are unreasonable,” said ACLU-TN Legal Director Stella Yarbrough. “The Tennessee House’s ban on silently holding signs in House galleries directly undermines Tennesseans’ First Amendment right to express their opinions on issues that affect them and their families.” 

The plaintiffs were forced out under rules adopted by the Tennessee House of Representatives for the special session that ban signs in the galleries of the House of Representatives, denying the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to speak freely, assemble and petition the government under the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions. 

The lawsuit, Polidor et al. v. Sexton et. al., was filed in the Chancery Court for Davidson County on behalf of Tennessee residents Allison Polidor, Erica Bowton and Maryam Abolfazli. The plaintiffs are seeking an emergency injunction to stop enforcement of the rule prohibiting people from silently holding signs during House of Representative proceedings. 

“I have a close friend whose son was a third grader at The Covenant School last year. I spent most of the day on March 27, 2023 not knowing whether my friend’s son was dead or alive. He survived, but his life, and so many others, will forever be marked by this tragedy,” said plaintiff Allison Polidor. “On August 22, 2023 I joined with so many other moms from across Tennessee to urge our lawmakers to enact common sense gun laws. I was removed for peacefully holding a small sign, and exercising my First Amendment rights. What started as a debate on gun safety has morphed into a blatant violation of my First Amendment rights.”

“As a parent, I am deeply concerned about gun violence in Tennessee. I came to the Capitol to watch the proceedings and express my concerns about gun safety,” said plaintiff Maryam Abolfazli. “But the House’s new rule on signs prevents me from expressing what I believe to the very people elected to represent me. I joined this lawsuit to ensure that Tennesseans’ right to voice their opinions to lawmakers is protected.”