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What is Freedom of Association?

Freedom of Association refers to the right to join others or become a member of an organization united for a legal common cause or purpose without interference. Although the right to associate is not an independent constitutional right it originates from and contingent on the First Amendment guarantees of free speech and expression.

One early case to recognize the freedom of association was in the United States Supreme Court, NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449 (1958). In this case, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) a non-profit membership corporation organized under the State of New York laws opened an office in the State of Alabama in violation of state statute that required a foreign corporation to “qualify before doing business in the State by filing its corporate charter and designating a place of business and an agent to receive service of process.”

The State brought an equity suit in state court alleging that the NAACP activities was causing “irreparable injury to the citizens of the State for which criminal prosecution and civil actions at law afforded no adequate relief” and sought to prohibit the NAACP from conducting activities and to have them ousted from the State. The court issued an ex parte order restraining the NAACP from engaging in further activities and forbid the organization from operating in the state. The NAACP moved to dissolve the restraining order contending that its activities did not subject it to the qualification requirements of the statute and what the State sought to accomplish by its suit would violate its rights to freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment. On the State’s motion, the court ordered the production of membership records along with other records of the organization and the NAACP eventually produced the requested records except for the membership list whereas they were found in contempt of court and fined $10,000. The State Supreme Court denied certiorari to review the contempt judgment but was granted it by the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether or not Alabama’s requirement of the membership list violate the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that in disclosing the NAACP membership lists it would reveal the identity of the members and based on previous occasions these revelations would expose those members “to economic reprisal, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion, and other manifestations of public hostility” and if the NAACP were compelled to disclose its members list it would be an effective curtailing on members freedom of association as well as adversely affect the organization’s ability express their own views.

The Court further opined that the “freedom to engage in association for the advancement of beliefs and ideas is an inseparable aspect of the ‘liberty’ assured by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which embraces freedom of speech.” As stated previously stated, freedom of association is not a right as enumerated in the Constitution of the United States but this landmark case firmly establishes that freedom of association is tied to freedom of speech.

If you believe that, your freedom to associate or First Amendment rights were violated, contact The Sanders Firm, P.C. in New York at 1-800-371-4835. We will review your claim thoroughly, providing you with an outline of possible actions you may wish to take. We are ready to be your voice for justice.