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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, May 24, 2021

#FREESPEECH in the News May 24, 2021

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

#FREESPEECH in the News May 24, 2021

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.) Student’s arrest for racist post sparks free speech debate

The arrest of a Connecticut high school student accused of posting racist comments about a Black classmate on social media is being supported by civil rights advocates, but free speech groups are calling it an unusual move by police that raises First Amendment issues.

A 16-year-old student in a classroom at Fairfield Warde High School allegedly took a photo of a Black classmate and posted it on Snapchat on May 7 with a caption that included a racial slur and racist comments. The teen who made the post is white, according to the Black student’s mother.

Police in Fairfield, Connecticut, arrested the student on a state hate crime charge of ridicule on account of creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race. The misdemeanor dating back to 1917 has been called an unconstitutional infringement on free speech rights by the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut and some law school professors.

2.) Court hands down split decision in Native corporation free speech case

An administrative law judge recently found Goldbelt shareholder Ray Austin innocent on charges of making misleading or false statements on Facebook that were critical of the elected leadership of Juneau’s Native corporation. The state’s Division of Banking & Securities cited Austin last year and ordered him to pay $1,000 for dozens of Facebook posts that criticized sitting Goldbelt directors.

“I speak up for what I think is right,” Austin told CoastAlaska.

But the judge did find him guilty for not filling out the required paperwork before making his comments in a public forum. Free speech is not a defense in these types of cases, she ruled.

“Mr. Austin’s constitutional rights were not violated by the requirement he provide the (regulators) concurrent copies of his Facebook postings, including his own re-submitted candidate posts,” Administrative Law Judge Carmen Clark wrote in her 31-page decision.

3.) ASU System turns to pricey D.C. law firm in free-speech case

A high-powered attorney is costing the Arkansas State University System about $116,000 for work done over a two-month period to defend against a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court.

David C. Frederick, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney, filed a brief last month arguing against a request by legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom to have the nation's highest court review a free-speech lawsuit dismissed in 2019. Alliance Defending Freedom claims that questions remain unresolved after the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by an ASU student and a chapter of the conservative group Turning Point USA.

In October 2017, Ashlyn Hoggard and a representative of Turning Point were told by an ASU administrator that they could not have an information table in an area reserved for "tabling" by registered student organizations.

Despite policy changes cited in the U.S. District Court order dismissing the case in 2019, the Alliance Defending Freedom seeks to have the Supreme Court review the immunity standard for public university officials, particularly in First Amendment cases, and deny immunity to ASU officials.

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