Monday, September 05, 2011

Victory! Fluvanna blogger vindicated for use of county seal

Fluvanna County supervisors were wrong when they passed an ordinance preventing a local blogger from using the county seal. A federal judge ruled that 23-year-old Bryan Rothamel’s First Amendment rights were violated.

It was a bizarre case to begin with -- after all, don't the citizens of a county "own" the seal, not the supervisors? Alerted by Shaun Kenney, a long-time blogger, Bearing Drift colleague, and vice chairman of the board of supervisors, the Rutherford Institute stepped in to defend what appeared to be clearly a First Amendment violation.

In January I wrote in the Washington Examiner:
It all began when a local blogger, 23-year-old Bryan Rothamel who writes The FLUCO Blog, used the county seal on articles he wrote to keep the community updated about supervisor meetings, activities, and decisions. The problem, according to the supervisors, was that he didn't have permission to use the county seal to illustrate those posts and, they added, he was using the seal to "advertise his product."

To rememdy the problem, in September the board made it a Class 1 misdemeanor to violate the law punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine up to $2,500, noting that "[n]o person, entity or organization shall exhibit, display, or in any manner utilize the seal or any copy, replication, facsimile or representation of the seal, . . ., unless such use shall have been expressly authorized by the board of supervisors."

Kenney was the lone vote against the new law, according to Tasha Cates at the The Daily Progress:
[Kenney] said that he thinks the ordinance was a “remedial action” against the blogger for writing something that a supervisor didn’t agree with.

“This seems like a simple First Amendment, slam dunk, common sense situation,” Kenney said. “I’m still appalled, with all of the other issues facing us in Fluvanna County, that somehow we chose to focus on this.”
Now Charlottesville's Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization, has come in to represent the blogger, filing a lawsuit on his behalf as noted by their president on the website:
"Criminalizing First Amendment activities is a grotesque violation of our constitutional right to free expression," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "Government officials should know better. Such censorship has no place in a free society."
Was Mr. Rothamel singled out by the supervisors? Other news organizations routinely use the county seal when writing about Fluvanna.
Read more from Sharon C. Fitzgerald's updated article at The Daily Progress.

Cross-posted at Bearing Drift

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