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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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Wednesday, July 08, 2020

#FREESPEECH in the News July 8, 2020

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

#FREESPEECH in the News July 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.) ACLU: Jackson man's comment should be considered free speech

When Kevin Hernandez denigrated the president in the direction of a man wearing a pro-Trump hat, he was met with a fist to his face and a criminal citation for picking a fight.

The scuffle happened June 14 near Town Square on the sidelines of a peaceful racial justice protest. The incident brings up questions about the applicability of criminal provocation, a rarely used town ordinance. And the fallout of the fight ranges from regret over a missed opportunity for civil dialogue to First Amendment questions about what constitutes political speech in an era of intense political division.

After marching to the Town Square as part of the protest, a group of friends were given some chalk and went to the northwest corner of the park to draw the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” There they encountered a man who was displaying opposite political views on his hat.

2.) Report Slams Facebook For 'Vexing And Heartbreaking Decisions' On Free Speech

Facebook's decisions to put free speech ahead of other values represent "significant setbacks for civil rights," according to an independent audit of the social network's progress in curbing discrimination.

The auditors gave a damning assessment of what they called "vexing and heartbreaking decisions" by Facebook. Among them: Keeping up posts by President Trump that "clearly violated" the company's policies on hate and violent speech and voter suppression; exempting politicians from third-party fact-checking; and being "far too reluctant to adopt strong rules to limit [voting] misinformation and voter suppression."

The report reflects two years of investigation by Laura W. Murphy, a former American Civil Liberties Union executive, and the civil rights law firm Relman Colfax. They were hired by Facebook following widespread accusations that it promotes discrimination by, for example, letting advertisers target users based on race. The auditors examined policies and practices ranging from how the company handles hate speech to its work to stop election interference.

3.) Letter signed by J.K. Rowling, Noam Chomsky warning of stifled free speech draws mixed reviews

More than 150 writers, journalists, academics and artists — including J.K. Rowling, M.I.T.’s Noam Chomsky, and Margaret Atwood — signed an open letter published Tuesday arguing that stifled free speech is creating an “intolerant climate” within society.

While their pointed message acknowledges the national reckoning over racism and social injustice and celebrates “overdue demands for police reform,” it also argues that the protest movements have helped “weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.”

The letter — which appeared in Harpers Magazine and boasts signatories including cultural icons such as jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, choreographer Bill T. Jones and feminist Gloria Steinem, and public figures like historian Nell Irvin Painter and author Malcolm Gladwell — drew mixed reactions on social media, igniting a heated online debate over free speech and “cancel culture.”

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