July 10, 2006
Federal Lawsuit Challenges Kentucky’s Censorship of Popular Online Journalist
Kentucky State Government’s Ban on Political Blogs Is Unconstitutional
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Commonwealth of Kentucky cannot block its employees’ access to political blogs at work while permitting the use of traditional news sites, Public Citizen said in a lawsuit filed today in a federal court in Lexington, Ky.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of popular online journalist Mark Nickolas by Public Citizen and Louisville attorney Jennifer A. Moore of Fernandez Friedman Grossman & Kohn, contends that the state unconstitutionally singled out BluegrassReport.org, Nickolas’s political news site covering issues of Kentucky politics, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Nickolas’ award-winning Web site had been read heavily by state employees, but it was banned on June 21, a day after Nickolas was quoted in a New York Times article criticizing Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who was recently indicted in connection to a political patronage scandal involving lucrative state jobs.
When questioned about the move, the state claimed that it had formulated a policy to add sites that it considered “blogs” to a list of sites banned on state employees’ computers, including gambling and pornographic sites. But blogs on mainstream media Web sites, as well as prominent conservative blogs such as the Drudge Report, remained accessible.
“The state has not consistently enforced its ban and has not yet given a coherent reason why blogs devoted to news and politics should be treated any differently than traditional news sites,” said Greg Beck, the Public Citizen attorney who filed the lawsuit. “The circumstances of this case suggest that the state intentionally targeted Bluegrass Report because of the political content of the site.”
“The state’s blocking of BluegrassReport.org constitutes content-based discrimination. While the state may regulate what its employees do during work hours, it cannot selectively control the reading material of employees based on content,” said attorney Jennifer A. Moore. “The state also cannot discriminate based on traditional and non-traditional media sites.”
“The defendants’ censorship of all sites the state classifies as ‘blogs’ is arbitrary, standardless, and constitutes content-based discrimination against non-traditional news websites,” the lawsuit states.
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