Press Release

Supreme Court to consider a small town case with huge repercussions on the First Amendment rights of all Americans Officer Jeffrey Heffernan demoted for picking up a campaign sign for his bedridden mother

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The High Court will hear the case of a New Jersey police officer who was demoted for picking up a mayoral campaign sign for his bedridden mother. The case, which involves a bizarre story of small town politics, will affect fundamental First Amendment rights such as freedom of assembly. Becket asked the Court to protect the officer’s rights.

“The First Amendment guarantees the right of all Americans to freely assemble with others without fear of retaliation—even in New Jersey,” said Stephanie Barclay, Counsel of Becket. “A lower court’s stingy reading of Officer Heffernan’s rights could have a serious impact on the rights of all Americans.”

Police Officer Jeffrey Heffernan went to nearby Paterson to pick up a campaign sign supporting the mayor’s challenger after his bedridden mother asked him to help her get a sign. While doing this, he was spotted by the incumbent mayor’s security detail, which reported Officer Heffernan was supporting the incumbent’s challenger. The very next day the Paterson Police Department demoted Mr. Heffernan from detective to patrol officer. Mr. Heffernan sued the city, the mayor, and the police chief of the city of Paterson for violating his rights to free speech and freedom of association.

“In a strange twist, a lower court ruled that because Officer Heffernan’s boss acted on a misperception, he was not really retaliating,” added Barclay. “The government shouldn’t be able to discriminate against you just because it misunderstands your speech, any more than it should be allowed to discriminate against you because it guesses your religion incorrectly.”

Becket’s friend of the court brief relies on scholarship from Washington University School of Law, Professor John Inazu, who argues that freedom of assembly should be given the protection both the text and the history of the constitution require, rather than the crabbed and warped reading of the First Amendment a lower court took in this case.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, please contact Melinda Skea at or 202.349.7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.


Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. For over 20 years, it has defended clients of all faiths, including  Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians. Its recent cases include three major Supreme Court victories: the landmark ruling in  Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, and the 9-0 rulings in  Holt v. Hobbs  and  Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, the latter of which The Wall Street Journal called one of “the most important religious liberty cases in a half century.”