The ACLU of Indiana today filed a lawsuit which claims that attempts by Indianapolis Animal Care Services (IACS) to restrain its volunteers’ speech violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Elaine Thiel and Mianna Ruiz volunteer at and have been outspoken about issues confronting the shelter. Thiel and Ruiz are suing IACS after the shelter threatened to terminate their volunteer positions if they continue to offer critical commentary.
In order to express their opinions about the dire state of the shelter operated by IACS, Thiel and Ruiz, along with ninety-five other past or present employees and volunteers of IACS, signed a letter concerning the crisis at IACS. Local media published multiple articles about the concerns voiced by the group. Thiel and Ruiz both provided comment to the media on the issues plaguing IACS and they shared with the media some of their experiences volunteering at the shelter. IACS claims these actions violated the shelter’s Volunteer Code of Conduct and its Social Media Policy.
Thiel and Ruiz claim that animals at the shelter live largely in crowded, substandard conditions and, far too often, do not leave the shelter alive.
“We are doing this to make sure all volunteers at IACS can speak up and advocate for change,” said Thiel and Ruiz. “We want the best for the animals of Indianapolis and feel as though continuing to bring light to these issues is necessary for said change.”
Thiel and Ruiz want to continue speaking publicly on social media, to the press, and elsewhere about the current state of IACS’s shelter, but they are prohibited from doing so by IACS’s Volunteer Code of Conduct and the Social Media Policy, and if they do so they are subject to termination from their volunteer positions.
“IACS is a government entity, attempting to censor public discourse about the conditions at the shelter,” said Gavin M. Rose, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Indiana. “These volunteers have the right to speak out about issues of public concern.”