Lebanon mayor faces lawsuit over blocking critics from her Facebook page
The lawsuit says her page is a public forum, and blocking people from it is a violation of First Amendment rights.
WARREN COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - The father and son owners of a Lebanon, Ohio business are suing the city’s mayor alleging she blocked them from her Facebook page, violating their right to free speech.
Oley and Kevin Snowden, who own Lebanon Candy and Sports Cards, say Mayor Amy Brewer blocked them from seeing and commenting on the Facebook page after a 2020 dispute led them to circulate a recall petition.
The lawsuit, filed June 24 in federal court in Cincinnati, says Brewer also has blocked “numerous other individuals” who were critical of her.
Although it’s Brewer’s personal Facebook page, she often uses it to highlight events happening in the city of about 20,000 residents. And according to the lawsuit, she uses the page “to communicate with constituents about issues of public concern.”
She signs many posts, “Mayor Amy Brewer.”
The lawsuit says that because she operates the page as government official, it becomes a public forum, and the First Amendment prohibits her from blocking the Snowdens or anyone else.
On May 13, Brewer posted a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine – signed by her, the vice mayor and a councilman – calling the COVID-19 vaccine lottery “unethical and likely criminal.” The post generated more than 280 comments, but anyone blocked from her page would not be able to see it or comment.
Brewer’s posts also have surrounded an upcoming school levy, pedestrian safety in Lebanon’s downtown, and how the city would spend federal pandemic stimulus money.
“What she’s doing is creating what, from a legal standpoint, is a public forum,” the Snowdens’ attorney, Josh Engel, told The Enquirer. “But she’s controlling who can comment at that town hall meeting.”
Reached by phone Wednesday, Brewer hung up when a reporter asked about the lawsuit. She did not respond to an email seeking comment. Her attorney, Joseph Pickens, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Brewer does maintain a separate Facebook page titled “Mayor Amy Brewer,” but that appears to be connected to her campaign for mayor in 2017. The last post is from July 1, 2018.
According to the lawsuit, the conflict with the Snowdens began after Oley Snowden called Brewer in June 2020 to complain because the street in front of their business was being blocked off to create an outdoor dining area.
Harsh words were exchanged, the lawsuit says, and the Snowdens say they haven’t spoken with her since.
The Snowdens put signs in their store window that said: “Recall Mayor Brewer. She is Bad for Business.” They later circulated a petition to local businesses, which the lawsuit says nearly every business signed.
The lawsuit says Brewer has told people not to shop at the Snowdens’ store. It also says she told a group at a fundraiser not to contact the business.
In addition to the Snowdens, the lawsuit says Brewer also has blocked people who have been critical of her views on “guns, COVID-19 and abortion.”
Brewer was among the officials who helped pass an ordinance in May that bans abortions within the city.
The Snowdens’ lawsuit asks the court to prohibit Brewer from blocking people from her Facebook page.
“If she’s going to create this forum on Facebook,” Engel said, “she needs to make it open to people who agree with her – and who disagree with her.”
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