Fight over freedom of speech heads to state Supreme Court

By Bob Unruh


A lifelong conservation officer in Idaho is being taken to the Idaho Supreme Court for expressing his opinion in opposition to a rich landowner’s plan to build his own private airport.

And now the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression is coming to his defense.

The FIRE explained the fight is over Gary Gadwa’s opinions regarding plans by a “wealthy tech magnate” to construct an airport for his own use.

Gadwa, a former emergency medical technician with 38 years of experience in search-and-rescue operations in the federally protected Sawtooth National Recreation Area, is retired, but even now volunteers as a fire lookout and spends weeks at a time in the mountains looking for the telltale signs of forest fires at Salmon–Challis National Forest, the organization explained.

Gadwa also spoke up when Michael Boren, co-founder of Boise-based financial tech firm Clearwater Analytics, in 2021 asked for a county permit to designate part of his Stanley, Idaho, ranch as an airstrip.

“When Boren claimed it could be used for search-and-rescue operations, Gary felt the need to speak up and speak out. Drawing on his experience, Gary contributed to an op-ed and testified before a county commission that he believed the airstrip would not serve future rescue operations and could have a negative effect on local wildlife and the natural beauty of the Sawtooth Mountains,” the FIRE explained.

While Boren eventually got the permit, he then attacked the First Amendment speech rights of Gadwa – and more than 20 others.

And when his lawsuit over their opinions was thrown out of court at the trial level, he advanced it to the state’s highest court, the foundation said.

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“I’ve dedicated my life to two things: protecting my community and protecting the Sawtooth Mountains,” Gadwa explained. “I’ll never stop speaking my mind, no matter who tries to silence me.”

JT Morris, a senior lawyer for the foundation, explained, “Gary spoke up when he saw something he thought would harm his community, just like every American should. Speech on public issues lies at the heart of the First Amendment — and the First Amendment squarely protects Gary’s speech opposing a designated airstrip that neighbors public lands.”

The foundation’s request to the state supreme court is for Gadwa to be allowed his right to engage in First Amendment-protected speech without being sued into silence.

The foundation noted the strategy being used to attack the critics of the airport isn’t new – and has used in other cases where it is known as a “strategic lawsuit against public participation.”

Those are court actions that are intended to silence and punish critics of public issues.

When he dismissed the lawsuit, Judge Stevan H. Thompson warned of “the potential for a great chilling effect on constitutional rights not just for these named defendants but for all the members of the public who spoke on this issue.”

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