Press Release: The ACLU of Georgia Warns Senator Isakson and Representatives Lewis and Loudermilk About Censoring Constituents
ATLANTA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia has sent letters to U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson and Congress members John Lewis and Barry Loudermilk warning the federal elected officials about censoring constituents who post on their government Facebook pages.
“Our democracy thrives when people can freely criticize elected officials, including yourself,” begins the letter the ACLU of Georgia sent to the senator and representatives. In each case, these federal officials have blocked one or more of their constituents. “We are concerned that you have blocked [them] for unconstitutional reasons,” the letters continued, and “have not provided any explanation for blocking [them].”
The ACLU of Georgia asked each of these public officials to restore the posting privileges of the constituents that they had blocked or provide a legal justification for doing so, undertake a review of all people whose posting privileges they have censored, and restore the posting privileges of all of those who have been unlawfully blocked for commenting.
“In this era of unprecedented attacks on our democracy, Freedom of Speech is more important than ever,” said Sean J. Young, Legal Director for the ACLU of Georgia.
In July 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision against North Carolina in which the nation’s high court wrote that social media is “the most important” place for the “exchange of views” on the Internet. That same month, a Federal District Court in Virginia ruled against a politician for censoring her critics’ comments on Facebook and stated that “The Court cannot treat a First Amendment violation in this vital, developing forum differently than it would elsewhere.”
In August, 2017, the ACLU of Virginia joined a federal lawsuit against the Loudoun Board of Supervisors and its chairwoman for blocking a constituent overnight. Citing the 1985 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Federal District Court stated, “This sort of governmental ‘designation of a place or channel of communication for use by the public’ is more than sufficient to create a forum for speech.“
In September 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown released documents that “show that he blocked about 1,500 individuals on Facebook, and several hundred on Twitter”, but that the office no longer blocked anyone on its social media accounts.
Last summer, the ACLU of Maryland and ACLU of Maine sued their respective governors for censoring its critics on government Facebook pages. In October, Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar was sued for censoring one of his critics. Last month, the ACLU of Pennsylvania asked a Pittsburg city councilmember to stop deleting comments from critics.
In December, the ACLU of Georgia sent demand letters to two sheriffs, a police department, and one other congressman demanding that they stop censoring their critics who post on official government Facebook pages.
Every individual that the ACLU of Georgia identified in its demand letters has confirmed that they have been unblocked by Congressman Ferguson and the Henry County Police Department, respectively.
According to Tom McCain, the Executive Director of Peachtree NORML, whom the ACLU of Georgia represents, the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office has unblocked several of the individuals previously blocked from commenting on the page.
As of January 23, 2018, the Facebook page for Worth County Sheriff’s Office remains offline.