FRANKLIN — The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit against Franklin Mayor Steve Barnett on Tuesday for blocking a resident from his Facebook page.
The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, claims William Reynolds was blocked from viewing or commenting on Barnett's Facebook page last year after he posted and tagged Barnett in a video of him participating in a Black Lives Matter rally.
In May, a BLM protest was held in Franklin in the wake of George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis. At the protest, Reynolds says he met Barnett, in which the mayor was seen leading chants and carrying a BLM poster. As a result of their meeting, a formal group was formed, the "Franklin Equity and Justice Coalition."
Reynolds — who is currently residing in Kentucky — tagged Mayor Barnett to highlight his past support of the BLM movement, according to the filed complaint. Reynold claims the mayor "promptly" removed himself from the tag. Reynolds says he then reinstated the tag, at which point the mayor blocked him.
Although Barnett's Facebook page is labeled as a personal page, the ACLU argues that the mayor uses it as an official government page to post city activities, events, and other issues for his constituents.
The ACLU's lawsuit claims that Reynolds' First Amendment rights were violated.
“As our democracy moves online, access to online forums is just as important as the ability to attend and petition our elected representatives at a town hall meeting,” Gavin M. Rose, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Indiana, stated in a release. “When our client was blocked from accessing the Mayor’s page, he was also denied the ability to view and comment on official updates and other matters of public concern. The right of Mr. Reynolds to express himself is a fundamental right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and a public online forum maintained by the Mayor of Franklin is no exception.”
The lawsuit requests the mayor unblock Reynolds and wishes to prohibit Barnett from blocking residents in the future.
According to the ACLU, Reynolds plans to move back to Franklin sometime in the future as he is "heavily invested in the Franklin community."
Barnett was elected as mayor in 2019.