Federal Judge Sides With Man in Free Speech Lawsuit Against Charlottesville

Charlottesville City Hall

Charlottesville City Hall / Wikimedia Commons

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A federal judge said that the Charlottesville City Council violated the U.S. Constitution when it had a resident removed from a council meeting for violating its group defamation rule, according to a report in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

A lawsuit was filed by Charlottesville resident Joseph Draego after two police officers carried him out of a June 20 meeting at the order of the Virginia town's mayor. Draego had taken the floor during the public comment portion of the meeting to voice his concerns about the "public safety" concerns he had about Muslims in the community.

Before Draego was removed from the meeting, he voiced his opinion that Mohammed was a "deviant monster" who called on people to "kill the sodomites and those who allow themselves to be sodomized." Just after Draego called Muslims "monstrous maniacs" that "perpetrate horrible crimes," Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer cut him off to tell him that he had broken the city council's group defamation rule.

"I'm gonna interrupt you because we actually prohibit defamatory attacks on individuals or groups," Singer said.

Draego responded, "The Constitution guarantees me the right to free speech. I am allowed to speak my mind and I will do so."

"Your defamatory rules do not overcome the Constitution," said Draego before he was carried out of the meeting by police.

Draego filed a lawsuit against the city arguing that its rule is unconstitutional "since it allows for praise of a group but not negative comments."

Judge Norman Moon in a Friday decision ruled that Draego was correct and urged the city council to scrap its defamation rule.

"The central question in this case is: Can a local government—consistent with the Constitution—open a forum for citizens to address their elected representatives on whatever subject they believe merits attention, yet then ban speech it deems to be a ‘defamatory attack’ on groups?" Moon wrote. "Here, the answer is ‘no.’"

Video of the June 20 incident, posted on YouTube by the Schilling Show, can be viewed below:

Brent Scher   Email Brent | Full Bio | RSS
Brent Scher is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He graduated from the University of Virginia, where he studied foreign affairs and politics.

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