Animals in “shelters” and pounds have no voice of their own and need others to speak for them.

In a victory for free speech — and a victory for anyone who has spoken out on behalf of animals mistreated, abused, and killed in city pounds — a Federal Court of Appeal ruled that President Donald Trump cannot delete comments or ban people on twitter for criticizing him and his policies. More broadly, the ruling reaffirms the proposition that public officials cannot selectively censor comments or block individuals on their official social media pages based on the viewpoints they express. To do so violates the First Amendment.

Citizens not only have a First Amendment right to speak out against government policies with which they disagree, they have a constitutionally protected right to demand that the government correct the wrongs that are identified.

As the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, “speech on public issues occupies the ‘highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values,’ and is entitled to special protection.” Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 145 (1983). Indeed, such speech lies “at the heart of the First Amendment’s protection.” First Nat’l Bank of Bos. v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 776 (1978).

When animal lives are at stake — as they are when animals enter a shelter that has not fully embraced a culture of lifesaving — removing comments critical of policies that favor killing by government shelters is even more egregious given the life and death consequences. Animals have no voice of their own and need others to speak for them. Deleting critical comments effectively silences them.

Last year, for example, Long Beach, CA, Mayor Robert Garcia illegally violated the civil rights of citizens by hiding comments on his Facebook page critical of his handling of the city pound, which maintained a high rate of killing and paltry number of adoptions.

According to the Court,

the First Amendment does not permit a public official who uses a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from otherwise-open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees.

My organization, the No Kill Advocacy Center, was not only the first to bring a free speech case against pound officials, but we assisted Long Beach activists, helping to bring the Mayor’s actions to public attention and forcing Garcia to back down and unhide the comments.

The case, Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump, is available by clicking here.

Know your rights by clicking here.

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