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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, March 11, 2019

#FREESPEECH IN THE NEWS: MARCH 11, 2019

Bliss Davis, Content Coordinator, The City Club of Cleveland

#FREESPEECH IN THE NEWS: MARCH 11, 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.) Facebook, Charter Say Robocall Law Violates Free Speech

Charter Communications Inc. and Facebook Inc. are set to argue a federal robocall law violates the First Amendment’s free-speech guarantee.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit March 11 will hear oral argument in separate cases challenging the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which restricts the use of autodialers to make telemarketing calls.

The Ninth Circuit may choose to strike down the entire law, or just an amendment to the autodialer restriction that was added in 2015. Under the statute, first enacted in 1991, consumers may sue for robocalls and collect up to $1,500 per call or text.

2.) Free speech at center of panhandling issue

If City Council fails to remove the ban on panhandling, Law Director Andrea Scassa said, possible legal challenges from an individual or civil rights group could ensue. Scassa points to a letter penned by the ACLU and received by Canton in August 2018, which referred to a panhandling ban as unconstitutional, and stated that individual rights of free speech are being violated if it is prohibited.

That was the driving force in Canton removing its ban on panhandling, according to Law Director Kristen Bates.

“Our police told us there are other tools that didn’t affect free speech, but (instead) behavior,” said Bates, adding that shouting and menacing can lead to a disorderly conduct charge. “There are other rules to control people who are unruly when they panhandle.”

In the ACLU’s letter to Canton, the group noted that 25 federal court cases brought forth since 2015 challenging panhandling ordinances have all succeeded with the ordinances deemed unconstitutional.

3.) Rapper loses free-speech rights, freedom over song

Jamal Knox is a hip-hop artist who goes by the name Mayhem Mal. Several years ago, he recorded and uploaded a music video of himself performing the song “F— the Police.”

While controversial, this is a sentiment that’s been reflected in rap music for decades. The version recorded by the 1990s rap group N.W.A. helped them earn a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Mal’s version of the song, which named two specific police officers, landed him a two-year jail sentence in Pennsylvania.

“The clear expression repeated in various ways that these officers are being selectively targeted in response to prior interactions with (Knox), stand in conflict with the contention that the song was meant to be understood as fiction,” wrote Thomas Saylor, Pennsylvania’s chief justice.

Knox, who was 19 years old at the time of his 2014 sentencing, claimed he’d been using a persona in the song. His use of a different recording name — Mayhem Mal — seems to fit with this defense. But his appeal was denied, and his lawyers are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up his case.

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