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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, September 16, 2020

#FREESPEECH in the News September 16, 2020

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

#FREESPEECH in the News September 16, 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.) Comedian seeks dismissal of lawsuit based on Freedom of Speech

A comedian whose satire site posted a fake "Antifa" event has filed a motion to strike the lawsuit Lafayette filed against him, relying on Louisiana's anti-SLAPP law.

The city sued John Merrifield earlier this month, asking the court to force him to pay the city for the cost of police officers deployed on the date of the fake event. The city's position is that the event was fake, but the deployments were necessary in case someone took the fake event seriously.

According to a release from Merrifield's New Orleans attorney, the anti-SLAPP law protects speakers and publishers against malicious or meritless lawsuits filed that arise “from any act of that person in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States or Louisiana Constitution.”

2.) Federal appeals court strikes down SEPTA ad space lawsuit, says transit agency violated free speech rights

A federal appeals court panel has struck down a policy of Philadelphia's main transit agency that forbids advertising regarding issues it considers political or of public debate.

In a ruling made public Monday, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia determined the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority violated the free speech rights of the Center for Investigative Reporting. The agency had refused to run ads promoting a CIR series on racial discrimination in home mortgage lending in 2018.

The court found that SEPTA's advertising policy can't be applied in a consistent, logical manner. The American Civil Liberties Union had represented the center, claiming that rejecting the ads is a First Amendment violation. Andrew Busch, a SEPTA spokesman, said the agency is reviewing the decision and for now would not have any further comment.

3.) No Right to Bundle ‘Big Brother,’ Maine Says in Fight Over Pick-and-Choose Cable Law

Defending a first-in-the-nation law that would force cable operators to go à la carte, a lawyer for the state of Maine assured the First Circuit on Wednesday that bundled channels is not a free-speech issue.

“They claim that they have a First Amendment right to force customers to buy HGTV and Animal Planet to get Discovery Channel, and to force customers to buy ‘NCIS’ and ‘Big Brother’ to watch ‘60 Minutes,’” the state said in its brief ahead of the 11 a.m. hearing in Boston. “There is no First Amendment right to engage in such bundling.”

Comcast, Fox, Disney and other cable operators sued the state last September, just before the law was to take effect. Crediting the companies’ claims that the new law was unconstitutional, particularly because the law does not affect internet-based providers similarly, a federal judge granted an injunction in December.

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