(Bismark, North Dakota, Oct. 17, 2016)— In a letter sent today to the North Dakota State Attorney Ladd R. Erickson today, the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center objected to the criminal prosecution of Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! and winner of the American Humanist Association’s 2005 Humanist Heroine Award. The letter accused prosecutors of attacking fundamental First Amendment freedom of the press.
After filming an attack on activists protesting the Dakota Pipeline, which if constructed would run through Native American tribal lands, Goodman was charged with trespassing. The trespassing charge has since been dropped, but Goodman is still required to appear at the Morton County Court today at 1:30pm CDT to face new charges of rioting.
The Appignani Humanist Legal Center’s letter asserts that as a journalist, Goodman is guaranteed the constitutional right to cover newsworthy events such as the Native American-led pipeline protest. During the protest, Goodman acted at all times in her professional capacity as a journalist by interviewing and filming protesters. However, one report of Goodman’s prosecution indicates that she was criminally charged because her coverage appeared sympathetic to the Native American activists opposing the pipeline. This, the letter says, suggests that the prosecution is based primarily on Goodman giving visibility to the protesters.
Such a content-based prosecution would offend the First Amendment, said American Humanist Association Legal Director David Niose in the letter. “To prosecute Ms. Goodman on this basis would be a gross injustice, a strong-arm tactic akin to those used by authoritarian regimes that are intolerant of opponents,” the letter says. “Such a prosecution would undoubtedly be interpreted widely as a direct attack on journalistic freedom, bearing no relationship to your duty to uphold the law, thus tarnishing both your office and your state.”
The letter informs the North Dakota State Attorney that the American Humanist Association and other First Amendment organizations will be watching the events unfold surrounding Amy Goodman’s prosecution.
The letter can be viewed online here.
UPDATE: CNN reports that a North Dakota judge has ruled against the riot charge brought against Amy Goodman. Read more here.
Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.
Note: Photo by Aditya Ganapathiraju – https://www.thenation.com/article/amy-goodman-is-facing-prison-for-reporting-on-the-dakota-access-pipeline-that-should-scare-us-all/, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link