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ACLU sues Indiana councilman for violating First Amendment rights

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has filed a lawsuit against a Mooresville Town Council member, alleging he violated the Indiana town residents’ First Amendment rights to free speech.

The suit, made on March 28 on behalf of Robert Samuels, a Mooresville resident, says Shane Williams, a councilman since 2020, shut down his official business Facebook page on Jan. 8, and uses his personal profile to share information about the city.

Court documents say Williams allegedly “has engaged in conduct where he censors comments and those who make them based on their viewpoints.”

While some of Williams’ posts are public, many others are limited to a restricted audience and cannot be seen by anyone outside that audience.

According to the suit, Samuels followed Williams’ Facebook and commented on his posts, though the comments were never “obscene, threatening, defamatory, or profane.”

In February, the suit says, Williams began restricting the audiences of his posts, which barred Samuels from commenting on Williams’ posts and also blocked him from viewing Williams’ profile, though the block was removed.

According to a release, Williams communicated with Indiana’s Public Access Counselor Luke Britt, who provided Williams advice regarding blocking people from his Facebook page.

The suit says Britt advised Williams, “Your best bet is to disable comments and post your content. That way, you don’t have to worry about blocking anyone. Alternatively, have separate accounts for town business versus personal business.”

Williams says that by Britt’s guidance, he is lawfully allowed to block comments on his page, though it is this action that Samuels says compelled him to file the lawsuit.

“I believe that every citizen has the right to be heard by their elected official and that elected officials cannot openly and overtly violate the right to freedom of speech in our country,” Samuels said in a statement.

The suit alleges that as Williams has prohibited who can see his private posts, it infringes on residents’ free speech and violates the First Amendment.