Public Officials Can’t Censor Offensive Speech

Here’s a story that should be of interest to public officials in Brattleboro. A court has ruled that government officials can’t censor speech they oppose or find offensive.

The ruling says:

“The restrictions on “antagonistic,” “abusive” and “personally directed” speech prohibit speech because it opposes, or offends, the Board or members of the public, in violation of the First Amendment.”

While there can be rules about personal attacks on other members of the public, silencing members of the public who are critical of officials is unconstitutional.

Good reminder!

Comments | 7

  • A lesson for Brattleboro officials?

    Cgrotke direct the attention of Brattleboro officials to this ruling which prohibits government officials from restricting “antagonistic” speech; but it is unclear to me whether CGrotke simply wants to be sure that our local first among equals are aware of this ruling on general principal; or if he is alluding to some particular friction that has occurred?

    • Both, and more

      One is a general reminder to all public officials.

      But, yes, over the years there have been times that people speaking to the selectboard have been, or have come close to, being shut down because members of the board find them offensive.

      If you need a recent case, I recall Mr. Daims was cut off and shut out of further participation in a Zoom meeting in the last six months or so because he was expressing his feelings about the board and their actions on… I think it was climate and RTM?

      It also comes close to the issues around the LACK of a social media policy, and public officials having what appear to be official public government accounts, and the way each moderates their own set-up. No blocking of the public is allowed.

      And finally, a new website is going to be in development. It could very well be that members of the public ask for and want some interaction with officials on that new site. If the site is opened to comments, there will no doubt be some comments officials find offensive. This law applies to in-person meetings, but similar laws apply online.

      But generally, it is simply a good reminder. Too many people these days are quick to block or ban speech they disagree with or find offensive, and some of them get elected! : )

      • Civil conversation? Nah

        Good point, Grotke. Why bother with civil conversation? The selectboard
        Has an obligation to indulge every rude, uninformed yahoo. Gosh, I wish we had more full throated anti-vaxers and Covid deniers speaking (yelling) out at selectboard meetings. Free speech for all! It’s a good reminder

      • WORSE than you thought // pre-emptive censorship

        Just some details about Tim’s heavy hand on the microphone.

        I was first in line to speak when you proposed to recognize Oscar before me, which would have been OK. But then you recognized Stephen, and Django, and other people for an hour or so, and then moved to recess, before recognizing me. On top of that, even though I had made my agenda request for the 2018 resolution directly to you and Peter, you apparently forgot about it, and the proposal wasn’t properly described in the agenda. So, the board didn’t know where the proposal came from, and Peter had to explain it to them. Seeing this, I was disappointed with the board’s delay. They took three years to address a climate emergency measure that was approved by RTM.

        On February 16 and March 2 the board debated the BCS short climate emergency resolution. On the 16th of February the debate was distracted and delayed in discussions of the definition of a building. Hallelujah and thank you to Tim Wessel for finally dropping that line of argument. The board was still unaware of the origin of the proposal. After much dull delay at the meeting — on top of three years , Kurt Daims scolded the board for defacto climate denial, saying that Daniel Quipp had dropped the ball, that Liz Mcloughlin was a penny pincher, and (appx)
        ” Justice delayed is justice denied. If you see a child drowning and you delay for coffee or to find a cheaper rope, you are denying that emergency. Although the individual people in town government assert that they are not climate deniers . . . ” I would have continued “. . . collectively, systemically to delay action on a matter of emergency is DE FACTO denial.” Mr. Wessel claimed that he squelched me because my remarks were personal and abusive, but Mr. Quipp said they were OK criticism in an election year. Ms. McLoughlin said she was fine being called a penny-pincher. So, no way was I abusive. Mr. Wessel wanted to censor the obvious — he and the board delayed a climate emergency measure for three years. Justice delayed is justice denied. Our selectboard is in denial.

  • 'The devil's in the details' or 'hard cases make bad law'?

    French [the Board President] later clarified that he stopped Billy [Ison, the Plaintiff] because he found his speech “hostile,” “personally directed,” and “abus[ive.]” The video contradicts much of French’s testimony. Billy spoke calmly, used measured tones, and refrained from personal attacks or vitriol, focusing instead on his stringent opposition to the oard’s policy and his belief that the Board was not being honest about its motives. While not directly relevant to our decision as to Plaintiffs’ as-applied challenge, the application to Billy is useful evidence of the Board’s interpretation of the regulations. Having already found the “abusive” and “personally directed” restrictions facially unconstitutional, their application to Billy’s comments also constitutes impermissible viewpoint discrimination. Accordingly, the Policy’s restrictions on abusive, personally directed, and antagonistic speech, facially and as-applied, violate the First Amendment. Since the parties have not briefed the proper remedy for these violations, we leave that issue for the district court on remand.

  • Oeser has been the only person yet to cite a "ruling"

    Oeser has been the only person yet to cite a “ruling”, which exact ruling is the original post referring to?

  • The "ruling"

    The quote above is from the opinion of Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case Ison v. Madison Local School District Board of Education, No. 20-4108 (6th Cir. 2021).

    This is the case cited in the article that was hyperlinked in the origina post: Sixth Circuit Says School Board Can’t Boot People From Meetings Just Because It Doesn’t Like What They’re Saying []

    Here is the link to the opinion:

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