(No. 2:08-CV-116, United States District Court of Eastern Tennessee, Greeneville, Judge Ronnie Greer)
Cooperating Attorney: Erica Taylor Greene of Greene Law Firm
Plaintiffs: Robin Read, Michael Read and the Estate of Brandon Read
Defendants: Dan Frazier
ACLU-TN defended Dan Frazier and his Arizona-based company, Lifeweaver, Inc., which sells various anti-war and peace-themed products, in a $40 billion class action suit brought against him by the Tennessee family of a soldier who died in the Iraq war.
Frazier, based in Flagstaff, AZ, had created a t-shirt that criticized then President Bush with the phrase “Bush Lied…They Died” superimposed over the names of 4,058 troops killed in the war. Through his on-line store, www.CarryaBigSticker.com, Frazier sold the t-shirts and contributed a portion of each sale to an organization that benefits families of fallen soldiers. The parents of a soldier listed on the shirt filed a lawsuit in 2008 seeking over $40 billion in damages. The suit also sought to force Mr. Frazier to remove the names of the troops from his t-shirts.
The lawsuit, a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP suit, was not the first effort to silence Frazier’s political speech. In 2007, Mr. Frazier had successfully worked with the ACLU of Arizona after the Arizona legislature tried to criminalize his production of the t-shirts by passing legislation forbidding the use of a soldier’s name for profit. ACLU-AZ helped Mr. Frazier obtain a strongly-worded court opinion declaring his actions to be clearly-protected core political speech.
Building on that decision, ACLU-TN represented Mr. Frazier the following year. In a decisive victory for free speech, Judge Ronnie Greer dismissed the suit, writing that “exercising free speech in criticizing the government is not outrageous… The views expressed by the defendants may be unpopular and even offensive to some people, but they do not rise to the level of legal outrageous conduct.”
The Court further found that Frazier did not use soldiers’ names to endorse or encourage others to buy the shirts, but “to make a political statement, which is an exercise of free speech.”