The mayor of Franklin has been sued by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana after he allegedly blocked an individual from accessing his Facebook page.
Filed Tuesday in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, William Reynolds v. Mayor Steve Barnett, in his official capacity, 1:21-cv-1843, asserts that former Franklin resident William Reynolds was blocked from viewing or commenting on Barnett’s Facebook page after posting a video of the mayor participating in a Black Lives Matter rally in May 2020.
The complaint asserts Reynolds’ First Amendment rights were violated when Barnett denied him the right to comment or view information available only on the mayor’s Facebook page.
Issues in the case arose after Reynolds said he met Barnett at a Black Lives Matter protest in Franklin following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year. The complaint claims Barnett carried a colorful poster stating “Black Lives Matter” and led a sizable crowd in a BLM chant.
Reynolds, who took a video of Barnett at the protest, posted the recording on Facebook and tagged the mayor’s name. However, the suit asserts Barnett “promptly untagged himself” after the video was online and subsequently blocked Reynolds.
While nominally used as a “personal page,” the ACLU argues Barnett’s Facebook account also functions as an official government account because he routinely posts about official city activities, events and other issues of relevance to his constituents.
The lawsuit requests that the district court order Barnett to unblock Reynolds and prohibit Barnett from similar actions in the future based on content or viewpoint.
“As our democracy moves online, access to online forums is just as important as the ability to attend and petition our elected representatives at a town hall meeting,” said Gavin M. Rose, ACLU of Indiana senior staff attorney. “When our client was blocked from accessing the Mayor’s page, he was also denied the ability to view and comment on official updates and other matters of public concern. The right of Mr. Reynolds to express himself is a fundamental right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and a public online forum maintained by the Mayor of Franklin is no exception.”
According to the complaint, Reynolds has temporarily relocated to Kentucky with the intent of returning to Franklin.
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office declined to comment on the complaint, stating, “We hope people will reserve judgment before they know the facts.”