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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, November 18, 2019

#FREESPEECH IN THE NEWS: November 18, 2019

Bliss Davis, Content and Programming Coordinator, The City Club of Cleveland

#FREESPEECH IN THE NEWS: November 18, 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.) He dropped f-bombs in a nasty letter to a judge and got jailed for it. What about his free speech rights?

The letter ripped the judge as “incompetent” and “unfit to serve,” with expletives added for emphasis.

It got Derrick Jenkins thrown in Palm Beach County Jail for 30 days as part of a six-month probation sentence. He’s now appealing his contempt of court conviction, in a case that raises the question: Don’t you have a First Amendment right to criticize someone wearing a black robe?

Usually only outside of court, legal experts say. Still, Jenkins’ lawyers argue he was “engaged in political speech” and didn’t deserve any punishment for insulting Circuit Judge Howard K. Coates Jr.

Jenkins had slammed Coates in response to the judge’s decision to dismiss his $500 million civil lawsuit against the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. The suit claimed his friend’s time was wasted over a seat belt citation.

In his letter, Jenkins complained that the judge issued his ruling without “a fair and impartial review,” among other perceived slights.

2.) Wisconsin board backs away from free speech restrictions

A county board in southern Wisconsin has backed away from a plan to prosecute journalists over their reporting on a water quality study and discipline elected officials for how they handle information about the research.

The Lafayette County Board on Tuesday night put off a decision on how to release information about private wells contaminated with fecal matter. The board shelved a resolution that said journalists would be prosecuted if they didn't quote a county news release verbatim when reporting on water quality. It also had threatened to punish officials who talked publicly without getting government permission.

The proposals drew criticism for violating First Amendment protections for freedom of speech.

3.) Man wins First Amendment court fight sparked by ‘IM GOD' license plate request

A Kentucky man’s three-year legal battle ended Wednesday when a federal court ruled his request for a personalized license plate qualifies as private speech protected by the First Amendment, the Courier Journal reported.

Ben Hart attempted to obtain a vanity plate reading “IM GOD” in 2016, but the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet denied the request for violating antidiscrimination guidelines, The Associated Press reported. The Courier Journal, citing court documents, reported the transportation cabinet has previously approved such personalized plates as “GODLVS,” “TRYGOD,” “1GOD” and “NOGOD”.

In its ruling, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Court of Kentucky wrote: “The Commonwealth [of Kentucky] went too far…To allow such plates as ‘IM4GOD’ and ‘LUVGOD’ but reject ‘IM GOD’ belies viewpoint neutrality…Regardless, the court concludes that in this case, [the statute governing such license plates] is an unreasonable and therefore impermissible restriction on Mr. Hart’s First Amendment rights.”

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