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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, December 30, 2019

#FREESPEECH in the News: December 30, 2019

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

#FREESPEECH in the News: December 30, 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.) 'TRYGOD' is OK, 'IMGOD' no way: Vanity plate rules and free speech butt heads

Regulating language on personalized plates has long pitted the government’s interest in maintaining decency on the roadways with the free speech rights of motorists.

In November, a federal judge in Kentucky ruled the state had improperly denied a plate saying “IMGOD” to a Northern Kentucky atheist.

Then, 12 days later, a disabled former Marine sued the state for rescinding his plate that read “INFDL,” which he said was a term of camaraderie used by Marines who served in the Middle East.

First Amendment scholars, including David Hudson of the Freedom Forum Institute, says that states are “maddeningly inconsistent” in applying vanity plate rules, so much that it makes their decisions look “arbitrary and unreasonable."

2.) San Diego universities criticized for ambiguous free speech policies

Three San Diego County universities have been flagged by a free speech advocacy group, which warned that the campuses had policies too subjective and ambiguous to meet 1st Amendment standards.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a Philadelphia-based group commonly referred to as FIRE, gave public universities San Diego State, UC San Diego and Cal State San Marcos “yellow light” ratings, meaning the institutions have “at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application,” according to the organization’s website.

FIRE assessed the speech policies of 471 U.S. colleges, finding 64% deserved “yellow light” ratings of warning; 25% received the lowest rating, a “red light”; and 11% were considered OK, with “green light” ratings.

3.) Man gets catcalling charges dropped due to ‘free speech’

A 36-year-old man from Rotterdam was the first man convicted under the city’s new street harassment laws, the Guardian reported, which prohibits people from making unsolicited sexual advances on another. However, charges were later dropped for the man, identified as Everon el F, after appealing his sentence on the grounds of freedom of expression.

According to the court of appeal in the Hague, el F should never have been convicted or fined, alleging there was “no reason to distinguish between purely verbal expressions, verbal expressions supported by gestures or behaviors, or mere opinions expressed by gestures or other behaviors.”

They added that the breadth of what is considered harassment is “very large,” and they could not prove that the acts were “evidently offensive and that the persons to whom they are addressed are thereby harassed.”

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