Suit alleges censorship on Elkhart city Facebook page

Those who run the City of Elkhart are being sued for the way they run the city Facebook page.

The accusation is one of censorship.

“I think basically I was posting about issues around the Lerner Theater and the A.D.A. violations and discrimination the city was engaged in and they didn’t care for that too much and they deleted all those posts and eventually banned me from commenting,” said Richard Wolf.

Wolf is an advocate for the disabled who says he has been blocked from posting comments on the Elkhart City Facebook page since 2015. “This is what I see when I go to my computer, I cannot comment, I cannot do a reaction, like a ‘like’ or whatever. I can only share it so I am essentially censored from making comments on the official city site.”

Richard Wolf is blocked from the site which is essentially a violation of his constitutional rights, or so it’s alleged in a civil lawsuit filed by the Indiana ACLU on Wolf’s behalf.

“I’ve talked to the city until I’m blue in the face, I’m done,” Wolf said.

While certain speech would fall outside that which is protected by the first amendment, including threats and obscenity, “that’s not what we’re talking about here,” said Staff Attorney Jan Mensz of the Indiana ACLU. “Their right to criticize their government is really at the heart of democracy and the first amendment really was meant to protect those rights.”

Wolf says he offered sharp criticism of the city but in a civilized way.
“They have an ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act) committee, the city does, it’s an internal committee that is private, not open to the public, and there are no disabled people on it so somebody tell me how that’s fair.”

Elkhart city officials had no comment. A spokesperson for the administration said they hadn’t yet been served with a copy of the suit.

Wolf was first blocked from the Elkhart Facebook page last year under the administration of Mayor Dick Moore, although Wolf insists he has since brought the situation to the attention of Mayor Neese and yet remains blocked.

All Wolf wants is to have his Facebook privileges on the city page restored—the suit does not seek monetary damages.

“When a government opens a forum, in this case their Facebook page for public comment, at the very least they can’t discriminate based on the viewpoint of those comments,” said Mensz. “Governments are still grappling with the fact that a Facebook page, while it might seem very casual to a private citizen, when a government engages in that activity it’s held to a different standard.”