Monday, October 18, 2021

1st Amendment protects Instagram post about Covid


A sheriff who asked a student to take down her Instagram post about her Covid-19 status was ordered by a federal judge to stop censoring social media posts like hers because they’re protected by the First Amendment, according to the decision filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

On April 16, 2020, Amyiah Cohoon, a student at Westfield Area High School, filed a lawsuit in federal court charging Sheriff Joseph Konrath and Patrol Sergeant Cameron Klump with violating her First and 14th Amendment rights. She claimed that Sergeant Klump, at Sheriff Konrath’s direction, demanded that she remove an Instagram post about her hospitalization with Covid-like symptoms.

She asked the judge to declare the censorship actions of the sheriff’s office unconstitutional, and Judge Brett H Ludwig agreed, ordering the sheriff to stop threatening to arrest Amyiah if she didn’t take down her post saying she had Covid.

She also asked the judge to grant an injunction to prevent the sheriff from making demands while the case proceeded. Since a judgment was granted in her favor, though, there was no need for an injunction.

The sheriff had claimed that Amyiah’s post caused harm to the community by making people panic. And that may be true, but the court ruled that the fear of panic does not give the government the right to ban protected speech like Amyiah’s:

They [defendants] elected, instead, to rely on the coercive power of the Sheriff’s Department, and any attempt to obfuscate that fact by casting Sergeant Klump as an earnest public relations expert must fail. Because she was subjected to the realistic threat of arrest, Amyiah has satisfied the second element of her retaliation claim. … [The defendants’] probable-cause argument dramatically understates the probable-cause analysis for disorderly conduct.
Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.


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