Mayor sued for shouting down critics in violation of 1st Amendment

(Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash)
(Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash)

The mayor of Eastpointe, Michigan, has been sued by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression for violation the First Amendment during a council meeting by shouting down residents who offered criticism of her.

The FIRE explained its federal claim is against Monique Owens for being a mayor “who is above criticism, who can shout down constituents whose views she does not like, and who doesn’t have to adhere to the First Amendment.”

The legal organization is representing four Eastpointe citizens who sued Owens and the city of Eastpointe, which is near Detroit, to protect the rights of all Eastpointers to peacefully criticize government officials.

She was elected mayor in 2019. But it was at a city council meeting only weeks ago she, according to the charges, “abused her power as the presiding officer by shouting down and suppressing criticism of her while the floor was open for public comments.”

A video reveals her “repeatedly interrupting and silencing two constituents who stood at the podium to express their support for Councilman Harvey Curley, who has been involved in an ongoing dispute with the mayor.”

Mary Hall-Rayford, a former chaplain and school board member, said, “I love Eastpointe. Eastpointe is my home. But every resident should have the freedom to express their thoughts about what happens in their community. Mayor Owens may not want to hear our feedback, but we have the right to speak up. Change doesn’t happen when people sit quietly.”

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Owens claimed any mention of her dispute with Curley would “re-victimize” her “and “bellowed” at Eastpointe resident Karen Beltz — a retired teacher, grandmother, and 40-year resident of Eastpointe who had never before spoken at a city council meeting — ‘You’re not going to sit here and assault me, lady I never met!'”

The FIRE explained Owens even ignored the advice of the town’s attorney, who reminded her that under the First Amendment members of the public can, in fact, discuss the topics they choose during their limited three-minute comment times.

The legal team said, “It is unconstitutional for a mayor to suppress peaceful criticism in a public meeting. FIRE’s lawsuit seeks to hold Owens accountable for viewpoint discrimination and for violating citizens’ constitutional rights, as well as to prevent her from censoring criticism going forward.”

Conor Fitzpatrick, a lawyer for FIRE, said, “This is Michigan, not Moscow. Public officials are elected to serve the people, not silence them. The First Amendment prohibits the government from requiring citizens to offer praise in order to be heard. FIRE is suing Owens to ensure that she no longer censors Eastpointers or tries to protect herself at the expense of the Constitution.”

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