Flying Dog Brewery establishes free speech advocacy organization with money from lawsuit

After winning thousands in a lawsuit, Flying Dog Brewery wants to advocate for free speech with the money.

Last March, a six-year legal battle between Frederick’s Flying Dog Brewery and the Michigan Liquor Control Commission — over the latter’s rejection of the former’s Raging Bitch IPA name and label — ended when the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the beer company.

Now, after being awarded just over $40,000 in damages, Flying Dog is using the money to promote free speech. The brewery created the 1st Amendment Society, a nonprofit organization whose goals include advocating for free speech, educating the public on the First Amendment and fighting censorship, the group's executive director, Erin Weston, said recently.

“Civil liberties are incredibly important to us,” Weston said. “We pursued this case against the state of Michigan based primarily on principle over anything else.”

In fact, the commission reversed its initial decision in April 2011 and approved Flying Dog’s label. The company, however, continued to fight in court in order to set a precedent, Weston said.

“We were like, ‘OK, thanks, but that’s actually not the point,’” Weston said of the 2011 decision. “The point is we wanted somebody to make the call that these five commissioners and their arbitrary decision was unconstitutional.” 

Rather than put the money into the business, Weston said Flying Dog CEO Jim Caruso was more interested in forming the 1st Amendment Society. The organization will officially launch May 31 in Washington with an event at the National Press Club. The company targeted that week because it coincides with SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience, a weeklong beer-and-food event in D.C.

“Because this case sets a precedent on alcohol in general, we wanted to hold the launch during this week to get as many people in the industry at the event and aware of what was going on,” Weston said.

The 1st Amendment Society will also host “Freedom Reads,” a series of summer lectures at the brewery on banned books like Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” (June 8), J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (July 13) and Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” (Aug. 10). Events begin at 6 p.m. in the tasting room (4607 Wedgewood Blvd.). 

The organization is also working with the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism to establish a scholarship in the society’s name, Weston said. The amount has not yet been determined, she said, because it will be based on fundraising. 

While the 1st Amendment Society was established based on a court ruling involving Flying Dog, Weston said the goal is to grow the organization to the point that it stands on its own.

“I think what we’ll see is it will go beyond just events here at Flying Dog and featuring Flying Dog beer,” she said.

wesley.case@baltsun.com

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