Politics

The ACLU of Kentucky is suing Gov. Matt Bevin for blocking people on Facebook and Twitter, saying the governor is violating the free speech rights of his constituents.

The challenge was filed on behalf of two Kentucky residents who say they have been “permanently blocked from engaging in political speech” on the governor’s official social media pages.

“I was shocked when I discovered that I was blocked from further commenting on the Governor’s posts,” said Mary Hargis in a statement released by the ACLU. “I may not have voted for Governor Bevin, but I’m one of his constituents. He shouldn’t be permanently dismissing my views and concerns with a click.”

The lawsuit was filed in federal court on Monday and comes amid increased scrutiny of who public officials allow to view and engage with their social media pages.

Early in July, a group of Twitter users sued President Donald Trump for blocking them, arguing his social media pages amounted to a “public forum.”

Bevin has blocked hundreds of people from viewing or commenting on content on his official accounts, saying he only bars those who post “obscene and abusive language or images, or repeated off-topic comments and spam.”

Amanda Stamper, Bevin’s press secretary, issued a statement saying the governor “welcomes thoughtful input from all viewpoints on his social media platforms.”

“Unfortunately, a small number of users misuse those outlets by posting obscene and abusive language or images, or repeated off-topic comments and spam. Constituents of all ages should be able to engage in civil discourse with Gov. Bevin via his social media platforms without being subjected to vulgarity or abusive trolls. Blocking individuals from engaging in such inappropriate conduct on social media in no way violates their free speech right under the U.S. or Kentucky constitutions, nor does it prohibit them from expressing their opinion in an open forum.”

William Sharp, legal director for the ACLU of Kentucky, said the governor isn’t allowed to “exclude speakers from a public forum.”

“Even when the government seeks to enforce permissible limits in such a forum, permanently excluding individuals for violating those limits goes too far,” Sharp said.

The lawsuit seeks to make Bevin unblock more than 600 accounts on Twitter and Facebook.

This story has been updated.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.