When government creates public forums for speech, the First Amendment applies
Vancouver attorney D. Angus Lee, of the Angus Lee Law Firm, PLLC., is part of a legal team representing Oregon resident and Portland State University Professor Bruce Gilley who filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday (Aug. 11) against an officer in the University of Oregon’s Division of Equity and Inclusion for blocking him from the division’s official Twitter account.
The lawsuit was announced Friday (Aug. 12) in a press release issued by the Institute for Free Speech.
“That Professor Gilley was silenced and censored by the University’s so-called Division of Equity and Inclusion for simply quoting the founding document of our nation makes it pretty clear that the University is no longer committed to the inclusion or diversity of viewpoints,” D. Angus Lee stated in the press release.
Lee also shared some context of the First Amendment case that should be of interest to Clark County residents.
“I suspect that local conservatives at area schools are also being blocked on twitter by school administrators,’’ Lee told Clark County Today, referring to Clark County residents. “Most people don’t know that school officials can’t block them based on their viewpoint and are simply being silenced and excluded from debate.’’
Gilley filed the lawsuit after being blocked by the division’s official Twitter account, @UOEquity, for seemingly no reason other than his viewpoint. Gilley had quote-tweeted a message from @UOEquity promoting a “Racism Interrupter” and chimed in with his own: “all men are created equal.” That, apparently, was enough to earn a block from the account’s manager.
“Nothing could better illustrate the problems with diversity ideology than a state university that bans a member of the public for quoting our Declaration of Independence. This lawsuit is necessary to defend our freedom of speech and the rule of law,” said Professor Gilley.
Gilley is represented in the case by attorneys from the Institute for Free Speech, a nonpartisan First Amendment advocacy group that defends political speech rights, and the Angus Lee Law Firm, PLLC. Under the First Amendment, the lawsuit explains, the interactive portions of the @UOEquity Twitter account, where users can post replies to its tweets, are designated public forums where state actors may not discriminate based on viewpoint. The Division of Equity and Inclusion also has no policy governing how users are blocked from its social media pages.
“Apparently, the state’s flagship university has a concept of inclusion that does not include tolerance for differing viewpoints. When a government employee uses a Twitter account for official business, they are legally obligated to respect the First Amendment rights of those who respond,” said Del Kolde, senior attorney at the Institute for Free Speech.
That lack of guidance is a recipe for state actors to exercise biased judgment about what speech and speakers they allow, the lawsuit warns. Indeed, that is what appears to be happening with @UOEquity.
The First Amendment does not allow the government or its actors to ban individuals from public forums just because they disagree with the views those individuals express. The lawsuit asks the judge to order @UOEquity to unblock Professor Gilley and to issue a permanent injunction preventing the account’s manager and agents from discriminating on the basis of viewpoint when blocking users in the future.
The case is Gilley v. Stabin in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon, Portland Division. To read the complaint, click here. To read the motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, click here. For future updates in the case, check back here.
About the Institute for Free Speech
The Institute for Free Speech is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that promotes and defends the First Amendment rights to freely speak, assemble, publish, and petition the government. Originally known as the Center for Competitive Politics, it was founded in 2005 by Bradley A. Smith, a former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. The Institute is the nation’s largest organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political rights.
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