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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, June 08, 2020

#FREESPEECH in the News June 8, 2020

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

#FREESPEECH in the News June 8, 2020

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.) 'It's free speech': Jackson school district fires hourly aide after racist comments

The school district has fired a transportation aide whose racist social media posts went viral this past week.

Bailey Case, 22, was fired after a social media video surfaced in which she complained about someone anonymously reporting her Snapchat account for the use of a racial slur. The post went viral, with Instagram comments ranging from crude to threatening, including users threatening to expose her address and phone number. A subsequent Facebook post by Case said she had notified police and advised, in a profanity-laden screed, that those who are "mad af I'm racist get ... over it."

Jackson schools Superintendent Stephen Genco, who announced the firing in a statement, called the "racist and inflammatory" posts "contrary to the inclusive, bias-free environment that our school district has worked so hard to foster.

2.) Can Penn State expel students accused of hate speech? Here’s what the experts said

Outrage over two discriminatory incidents involving Penn State students spilled over to the university itself last week, when anger was directed toward the school after it released a statement saying it “does not have the power” to expel such students.

More than 29,000 people signed an online petition demanding disciplinary action against Sean Setnick, who was accused of yelling the n-word and supporting the KKK while driving past a group of peaceful protesters last Sunday. Another student, Ryann Milligan, elicited anger when a photo surfaced that appeared to show her sporting a swastika in Sharpie on her exposed shoulder. A petition to expel her has exceeded 100,000 signatures.

But, according to lawyers and experts at the local, state and national levels, the university is almost certainly correct on its inability to discipline the students.

3.) Douglas Co. Commissioner Breaches Free Speech Infringement Settlement Agreement

A Douglas County commissioner who previously agreed to settle a legal matter regarding free speech infringements of a constituent out of court is now refusing to abide by the terms set forth by his own legal counsel. The months-long dispute was assumed to be resolved when a settlement agreement was executed at the end of May, but a commissioner’s refusal to adhere to the agreement means the case could be headed to federal court.

Douglas County resident Brenda Bohanan sent a letter to Commissioner Kelly Robinson in February of this year after Robinson blocked Bohanan on two Facebook accounts on which he conducted official business. In that letter, which copied County Attorney Ken Bernard, Bohanan requested that Robinson unblock her on the basis of a number of court rulings – including one by the U.S. Supreme Court – which held that public officials cannot bar access to their accounts, even personal profiles, if the page or profile is used in an official capacity.

The courts established that citizens have a First Amendment right to interact with government officials in a political forum. In both a 1997 case (Zeran v. Am. Online, Inc) and the noteworthy Packingham v. North Carolina case before the U.S. Supreme Court, the internet and social media have been deemed public forums in the same traditional sense as parks and streets.

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