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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, December 06, 2021

#FREESPEECH in the News December 6, 2021

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

#FREESPEECH in the News December 6, 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.) Cedar Rapids treads carefully on yard sign rules to protect free speech rights

It’s time for Cedar Rapids residents to take down the yard signs in front of their houses that advocate for the election of whichever mayoral candidate they supported in Tuesday’s runoff. Throughout the competitive race, signs in support of Mayor-elect Tiffany O’Donnell, incumbent Brad Hart and challenger Amara Andrews sprang up in yards around the city, and sometimes in right of way spaces where they technically are barred. But the city is treading carefully on enforcing its own ordinance regulating sign placement, wary of violating residents’ fundamental First Amendment rights protecting their freedom of speech.

Signs may be placed up to 60 days before a state, local or national election, including primary elections and caucuses, and must be removed immediately once the election ends, according to city policy. This is not intended to include signs that already were allowed on the lot.

To avoid infringing on free speech rights, the Cedar Rapids zoning policy states “the content of this additional signage is not subject to regulation by the city.” Government entities cannot make “content-based distinctions” in their policies, or regulations that discriminate on the basis of the content of what something communicates — for instance, advertising or political messages.

2.) Free speech goes for companies, too: Federal judge blocks Texas social media law

A federal judge in Austin has blocked Texas' new social media law — which targets Twitter, Facebook and other large platforms that Republicans accuse of censoring conservatives — as an unconstitutional violation of the companies' free speech rights.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman said the law known as House Bill 20, which prohibits large social media companies from censoring users based on their viewpoints, interferes with the platforms' editorial discretion and their First Amendment right to moderate the third-party content they disseminate.

"HB 20 prohibits virtually all content moderation, the very tool that social media platforms employ to make their platforms safe, useful, and enjoyable for users," Pitman wrote in an order released Wednesday night.

The law was to take effect Thursday. Texas officials are expected to appeal.

3.) Wisconsin Family Action sues to strike down campaign finance rule to shield names of its donors

A conservative group from Wisconsin is seeking to strike down campaign finance regulations that it says limit its free speech rights.

Wisconsin Family Action on Thursday filed the lawsuit saying it was reluctant to spend money in two congressional races because it feared the Federal Election Commission would try to force it to disclose the names of its donors.

It is asking U.S. District Judge William Griesbach in Green Bay to declare some of the commission’s regulations unconstitutional. Such a ruling would allow the group to spend money without having to name its donors.

The lawsuit alleges the commission is trying to require groups like Wisconsin Family Action to disclose the names of donors who give more than $200 even if the money isn't intended for political efforts.

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