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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 29, 2020

#FREESPEECH in the News June 29, 2020

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

#FREESPEECH in the News June 29, 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) Ohio Supreme Court reverses lower court's ruling in free speech case

The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed a lower court’s attempt to silence a man who had been posting comments on social media that his mother and sister considered objectionable, agreeing that free speech should not be taken away simply because other people take issue with what is being said.

The case involved comments Jeffrey Rasawehr, 55, of Birmingham, Mich., is accused of posting from September through November, 2017, about his mother, Rebecca Rasawehr, and Joni Bey, both of Mercer County.

During that time-frame and during a portion of 2016, according to the 27-page ruling, Mr. Rasawehr posted comments which suggested his mother and her sister somehow “contributed” to the deaths of Mr. Rasawehr’s father in January, 2008, and Ms. Bey’s husband in November, 2015, respectively.

2.) Millcreek Township settles ex-employee’s free speech suit

A financial settlement has ended the federal lawsuit between Millcreek Township and a former township official who claimed her firing in July 2018 violated her right to free speech.

The township’s former payroll manager, Janice A. Reichard, agreed to a $100,000 settlement to end her claims in U.S. District Court in Erie, according to an agreement the Erie Times-News received through a Right-to-Know request.

The suit raised questions about the limits of free speech rights during personal conversations that take place at work. Reichard, the plaintiff, claimed she was fired for exercising her First Amendment right to criticize the township treasurer during a conversation with an acquaintance who was not a township employee.

3.) Campus free speech bill goes into effect July 1, no action required until 2021

A state law regarding free speech at public colleges and universities goes into effect July 1, but doesn’t require any action by schools until early 2021. And some changes to the law could be coming.

During the 2019 legislative session, Rep. Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo, sponsored the bill in response to a national trend of college political demonstrations and protests to block some speakers from campuses.

The law requires schools to adopt policies that acknowledge, among other things, that “the campus of the public institution of higher education shall be open to any speaker whom the institution’s student organizations or faculty have invited, and the institution will make all reasonable efforts to make available all reasonable resources to ensure safety.” The law also says institutions won’t create “free speech zones” or other designated outdoor areas of campus in order to limit or prohibit protected expressive activities.

Fridy’s bill as originally written would have made the law effective in 2019. But an amendment in the final days of the session from Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, changed that to July 1, 2020. Lawmakers’ intention was to not require any reporting by universities until 2021, Fridy told Alabama Daily News this week. However, other dates in the bill were not altered as it became law to reflect the extended timeframe.

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