ACLU, former resident sue Franklin mayor

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana is suing Franklin Mayor Steve Barnett for his decision to block a former Franklin resident from his personal Facebook page.

Former Franklin resident William “Billy” Reynolds posted a 92-second video May 13 of Barnett at a Black Lives Matter rally, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

The video, posted in the Franklin Equity and Justice Coalition Facebook group, begins with the city logo and presents claims about what the city stands for, including standing with science, the Black Lives Matter movement, immigrants and LGBTQIA+ residents.

The video then shows still photos of Barnett and local law enforcement officials holding Black Lives Matter signs at a rally organized by the coalition.

The video then transitions to a clip of Barnett saying, “Black Lives Matter” to the crowd, and those gathered chanting back the same.

The clip ends with the mayor’s office phone number and a message to call with questions about the city’s diversity efforts.

After the video was posted, Barnett untagged himself, but Reynolds tagged him again, according to the lawsuit.

Barnett untagged himself a second time and blocked Reynolds from seeing content posted on his page and removing his ability to tag him in future posts, the lawsuit said.

Reynolds remained blocked when the lawsuit was filed.

The ACLU argues Barnett uses his Facebook page as a tool to communicate about the city and his work as mayor, therefore he cannot restrict the right of the public to see his posts. Barnett identifies himself as the mayor on his profile, posts during work hours and posts frequently about happenings in the city, according to the lawsuit.

Barnett is commonly tagged by others in his official capacity and has not taken action to omit other photos of himself in an official capacity, the lawsuit said.

The move violates of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the ACLU says.

“Mayor Barnett’s action in blocking Mr. Reynolds from viewing his (Mayor Barnett’s) Facebook page was taken solely as a result of Mr. Reynold’s decision to share true information concerning Mayor Barnett’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement and for the cause of racial justice. This constitutes discrimination based on the viewpoint and content of Mr. Reynold’s speech. There is no justification for this discrimination,” the lawsuit said.

Barnett’s office said Tuesday afternoon it was not aware the lawsuit was filed.

“The Mayor’s Office has not been served with a lawsuit, but it is not our policy to comment on pending litigation. We hope people will reserve judgement until they know the facts,” said Tara Payne, Barnett’s chief of staff.

The lawsuit asks the court to require Barnett to unblock Reynolds, prohibit Barnett from blocking him again and prohibit Barnett from removing tags of himself in Facebook posts created by Reynolds. The suit also asks the court to “reward other proper relief” to Reynolds.

Barnett is not the first public official to be hit with a lawsuit such as this and is not the first in Central Indiana. In 2016, the ACLU sued the City of Beech Grove for removing comments from two women who were critical of the city’s police department.

The lawsuits, which have been filed under a wide variety of circumstances all over the country, have thus far set a precedent that public officials, if they are using social media in their official capacity, cannot bar any member of the public from seeing and commenting on their posts.