Indianapolis – The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed two lawsuits today on behalf of two individuals who have been censored and blocked from posting comments on Facebook pages that are operated by government entities. Such censorship of speech based on viewpoint violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Richard Wolf, an Elkhart, Ind. resident and advocate for people with disabilities, was completely blocked from posting on the City of Elkhart’s Facebook page in 2015 after he used the forum to express concern about what he characterized as various violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act including the lack of accessible parking at the Lerner Theatre in Elkhart. His comments were removed from the site without notice and he remains blocked from posting on the site.
Carol Bare, a former resident of Martinsville, Ind., who now lives in Sullivan, Ind., was blocked from the Martinsville Police Department’s Facebook page approximately a year ago, after she posted criticism of the police. The police department immediately removed her post, and she remains exiled from posting comments to the site.
The lawsuits, filed in two different federal courts, seek declarations that the actions of the City of Elkhart and the Martinsville Police Department violate the plaintiffs’ First Amendment Rights. The suits also seek to stop these government entities from blocking Facebook users from posting comments.
“When a government entity opens up a space for public comment, it cannot regulate those comments based upon someone’s viewpoint,” said Jan Mensz, ACLU of Indiana staff attorney. “A citizen’s right to criticize their government is at the heart of what the First Amendment is meant to protect, and the municipalities, in these cases, violated that right.”
Both lawsuits were filed today, Oct. 7, 2016. Richard Wolf v. City of Elkhart, Indiana, Case No. 3:16-cv-00690, was filed in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division, and Carol Bare v. City of Martinsville, Indiana, Case No. 1:16-cv-2683, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division.