Flying Dog uses damages from lawsuit to create First Amendment Society

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The Flying Dog Brewery made headlines when it first released its signature Belgian IPA-style beer back in 2009, becoming the center of a freedom of speech lawsuit.

“Some of our names, some of our artwork can be considered a little edgy,” said Erin Weston, who works at the Frederick brewery.

The name of that particular beer was perhaps a little too edgy for the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, which banned its sale in the state after its release. Its members claimed that the beer and its label were “detrimental to the health, safety and welfare” of its residents.

But after a six-year legal battle, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the brewery, and the ban on the beer was lifted in Michigan.

“This, at the federal level, sets a precedent for all 50 states,” said Flying Dog CEO Jim Caruso. “It puts political officials on notice – that if they have some politically correct agenda, there are consequences to imposing that agenda on businesses – whether you’re a brewery, a winery or a distillery.”

Flying Dog decided to use the damages from the lawsuit to start a First Amendment Society, to raise a glass to the arts, journalism and civil liberties.

“Whether you agree with it or not – as Americans, we have the right to say it,” said Weston, who is the nonprofit group’s executive director. “Just because it might be offensive to you, or offensive to somebody that you know – that doesn’t take away that person’s right to be able to express that.”

Public libraries in Frederick County will drink to that, and they’re organizing free events to address free speech issues.

“If a brewmaster and a librarian walked into a bar, you wouldn’t think they’d have a lot to talk about,” said Bryan Hissong, community services coordinator for the county’s libraries. “But actually, we do. With Flying Dog’s focus on freedom of speech, it actually connects a lot with the libraries’ focus on freedom of information, freedom of expression, freedom of education.”

The brewery also plans on giving scholarships to students at the University of Maryland in College Park, who are interested in studying investigative journalism and similar issues.

“Free speech is being infringed upon, again and again,” Caruso added. “We want this dialogue to continue – this was never about the money.”

“Freedom Reads,” the free speech book club, will meet on one Wednesday every month at the brewery this summer. It officially began this week, with Garrett Epps delivering a talk on the U.S. Constitution. Epps is a legal scholar, author and journalist, as well as a contributing editor for The Atlantic.

On July 13, it will host Michelle Butler, a University of Maryland professor, who will discuss how the Harry Potter series has been banned in certain communities in the U.S.

Ronald Collins, a law professor and author, will visit the Flying Dog brewery on August 10 to discuss the poem Howl, by Allen Ginsburg.

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