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Want to know what is on our minds? Find blog posts written here, by the City Club staff, members, and partners. Every week you can find a new edition of #FreeSpeech in the News — a collection of related stories, commentary, and opinions on free speech in the 21st century that’s making the news. You’ll also find takes on current events, past forums, and issues surrounding Northeast Ohio. Read on for all things City Club.

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Monday, January 07, 2019

#FREESPEECH IN THE NEWS: JANUARY 7, 2019

Bliss Davis, Content Coordinator, The City Club of Cleveland

#FREESPEECH IN THE NEWS: JANUARY 7, 2019

As the Citadel of Free Speech here in Cleveland, we work to protect and promote the basis of our democracy by sharing related stories, commentary, and opinions on free speech in the 21st century. Here's what's making the news – and what you should know about – in the past week.

1.) Elected officials cannot silence critics on social media, appeals court rules

An elected official in Virginia violated the First Amendment when she temporarily blocked a constituent on Facebook, a federal appeals court ruled Monday, in a novel case with implications for how government officials nationwide interact with constituents on social media.

The unanimous ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit is the first from an appeals court to answer the question of whether free speech protections prevent public officials from barring critics from their social media feeds.

Both officials, in separate court filings, contend their accounts on privately owned digital platforms are personal and that they can restrict who gets a chance to speak there without crossing constitutional lines.

The Richmond-based appeals court disagreed. Public officials cannot block critical comments on digital platforms used to conduct official government business and to interact with constituents, the court concluded. Randall’s case arose after she briefly blocked community activist Brian Davison in early 2016 for accusations she deemed “slanderous.”

2.) Lawyers: Mechanicsburg SD violating students' free speech by not letting them hand out bibles

Mechanicsburg families are upset a Christian club isn't allowed to handout bibles during lunch. Lawyers say the school district has repeatedly denied students the right to free speech. Independence Law Center says the Christians in Action Student Club asked to hand out bibles to classmates who wanted them during lunch, but the Mechancicsburg Area School District said no.

"It’s concerning that these kind of things keep happening," said Jeremy Samek, an attorney at Independence Law Center. "Students have the rights to express themselves and even pass out information to fellow students during the school day during non-instructional times, providing that it doesn't fit into a small narrow subset of materials, like obscene materials," said Samek.

Superintendent Dr. Mark K. Leidy sent a statement, saying in part, "MASD respects the rights of students to express themselves and distribute materials. MASD also recognizes that exercise of that right must be limited by the District's responsibility to maintain an orderly school environment and to protect the rights of all members of the school community."

3.) Evangelical Preacher Accuses Facebook Of ‘Censoring Free Speech’ After Getting Blocked

Franklin Graham, a longtime evangelical ally of President Donald Trump, has accused Facebook of “censoring free speech” after being temporarily kicked off the social media site last week. The 24-hour block on Graham’s popular Facebook account was reportedly prompted by concerns that a two-year-old post he wrote attacking transgender people’s rights possibly violated the company’s standards on hate speech.

“If you disagree with [Facebook’s] position on sexual orientation, then you can be classified as hate speech or that you’re a racist,” Graham said during a “Fox & Friends” segment, apparently conflating gender identity and sexual orientation. “And this is a problem.”

He added that although he recognizes that Facebook is a private company that can “certainly do what they want,” he hopes it will come up with a new standard for content “based on God’s word.”

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