UPDATE (June 15, 2022)
The case has been dismissed after Boone County agreed to unblock the resident Kevin Dininger. The county also agreed that it will not “hide or delete user comments, ban or block users, or otherwise censor user comments based on viewpoints expressed by the users,” court documents state.
UPDATE (May 24, 2022): The Boone County Commissioners released a statement on the matter saying the blocking was “inadvertent” and hoping for an “expeditious resolution of the litigation.”
Here’s the full statement:
“During the course of an internal investigation, it was discovered that a post and subsequent blocking of an individual on the county’s Facebook page was inadvertent. The situation has been rectified. We have taken steps to ensure this does not happen again and are working on an expeditious resolution of the litigation.”
BOONE COUNTY, Ind. — The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has filed a lawsuit against Boone County on behalf of a citizen who was blocked by the county’s Facebook page after he posted a comment stating his intent to vote for the incumbent commissioner’s challenger in the primary election.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of resident Kevin Dininger on May 7 stating that by blocking Dininger from the government-run Facebook page they had violated the First Amendment.
“The First Amendment protects people, who regardless of their views, attempt to hold the government accountable through expression,” said Gavin M. Rose, ACLU of Indiana Senior Attorney. “Boone County’s practice of silencing citizens on Facebook who are critical of the County’s actions is unconstitutional.”
According to the complaint, the Boone County Facebook page “Living in Boone County — Indiana” posted an open letter signed by the Boone County Commissioners on April 14 on the subject of the justice center expansion project. In this letter, the commissioners criticized the Boone County Council president over delays in the $58 million justice center expansion.
The complaint states Dininger felt it was inappropriate for the county to publically criticize the council president which led to him posting a comment in response where he stated his intent to vote for Tim Beyer for Boone County commissioner. Beyer, at the time, had been running as a challenger in the Republican primary election.
Shortly after posting his comment, the lawsuit alleges the “Living in Boone County — Indiana” Facebook page changed their comment section to limit who could comment on the post. Older posts on the page, however, still allowed anyone to comment.
On April 15, Dininger made a post on his personal Facebook page pointing out that the Boone County page had limited comments. Being a government run page, Dininger questioned if it was even legal for the county to prevent people from commenting on the page. The lawsuit accuses Boone County of “swiftly” blocking him after this criticism.
The ACLU stated Dininger being blocked is an example of “viewpoint-based discrimination” and stated that in blocking Dininger from even viewing the county’s page it “impinges on Mr. Dininger’s liberty” by denying him the same access to information other citizens have.
In the complaint, Dininger asked the county to restore his ability to read and comment on the county’s page along with restoring his previous comments and prohibiting the county from blocking him in the future based on his viewpoint.
The Boone County Commissioners issued the following statement on Tuesday regarding the lawsuit:
“The Boone County Commissioners have received a complaint from the ACLU and take these allegations very seriously. A thorough internal investigation has been launched into the matter. Updates will be provided and a response will be issued at the conclusion of this investigation. The Commissioners are strong proponents of the First Amendment and believe in everyone’s right to free speech.”