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 for the first time yesterday that public officials cannot censor comments or block individuals on their official social media pages for criticizing them and their policies. To do so, ruled the Court, violates the First Amendment and Federal law: 42 U.S.C. 1983.
In the case, the Chair of the Loudoun County (VA) Board of Supervisors deleted a comment on Facebook because one of her constituents criticized the government, calling it out for “corruption.” In removing the comment and banning the commenter, the Court ruled that the Supervisor “engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”
Citizens not only have the 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. And government agencies and government officials cannot censor that speech. As such, they are not permitted to remove comments critical of their policies on social media.
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 Mayor Robert Garcia illegally violated the civil rights of citizens by hiding comments critical of his handling of the city pound, which maintained a high rate of killing and paltry number of adoptions.
My organization, the No Kill Advocacy Center, was not only the first to bring a Sec. 1983 action against pound officials but assisted Long Beach activists, helping to bring the Mayor’s actions to public attention and forcing Garcia to back down and unhide the comments.
And in a similar case, the pound in Hamilton Township, NJ, has a history of filthy conditions, killing animals in violation of state holding periods, inhumane killing, failure to provide veterinary care, and more, as documented by state inspection reports. Despite these problems, the Mayor claimed on her Facebook page that the state inspection “did not list one finding of animal abuse or animal cruelty.” Lilas Borsa, a New Jersey resident, challenged her, writing, that she was conflating the law, the report showed illegal killing, it required a “continuation” sheet due to the sheer number of problems and violations, and was an “embarrassment” to Mayor Yaede’s administration. The Mayor responded by deleting her comment and Borsa filed a lawsuit. That case is currently pending in Federal Court. There is little doubt of the outcome in light of the new ruling; the Mayor will invariably lose.
The case, Davison vs. Randall, is available by clicking here.
Know your rights by clicking here.
Have a comment? Join the discussion by clicking here.