The ACLU has historically talked a good game about free speech, but the organization has been notoriously selective in challenging those who are–or who are alleged to be–suppressing it.
This reality is something that Kansas State Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook of Shawnee has learned through experience. Earlier this year, the Kansas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union sent Pilcher-Cook a detailed two-page letter chastising her for daring to manage her “official” Facebook page. The ACLU had taken up the cause of a Pilcher-Cook constituent named Stephanie Morgan.
“As soon as I posted something,” Pilcher-Cook says of Morgan, “she would have a negative, misleading and long response within a few hours.” The one post on which the ACLU focused was a Sentinel article headlined, “Kansas Republicans Reach Consensus on Tax Package, Not So Fast.” Morgan apparently challenged the facts of the article. Pilcher-Cook responded, “People will be banned if they post false Facebook comments on this page.”
In response to the threatened ban, Morgan wrote, “If you ban individuals who post counter information to the KPI/Sentinel that is actually factual but that runs counter to your message, you will be doing this on a page paid partly by (matching) taxpayer funds.” Morgan continued on with claims about why Pilcher-Cook’s “threatening to silence” a constituent was a terrible thing to do.
It’s unclear what Morgan meant by ‘KPI/Sentinel’ but for the record, The Sentinel is an independent non-profit organization and is not owned by or part of Kansas Policy Institute.
For those who may not know, there is no cost involved in Facebook. Some legislators maintain separate pages for their personal and political postings. Some just have one page. Some have no presence on Facebook at all. Pilcher-Cook paid a person to set up her page out of her campaign funds. The ACLU’s claim that this is her “official State Senate Facebook page” is misleading in the extreme.
Rather than having to be constantly watching her own politically-oriented page, Pilcher-Cook finally blocked Morgan. The beauty of Facebook is that the user can control his or her own audience. Most users eventually deny access to certain people, usually for the very reason that Pilcher-Cook did.
In an extraordinary bit of legal jujitsu, the ACLU leaped to the conclusion that Pilcher-Cook’s management of her Facebook page was “unconstitutional.” Its representatives demanded that Pilcher-Cook cease her “unlawful censorship” and unblock Morgan. Pilcher-Cook has refused its demands.
Said Pilcher-Cook, “Intimidation and bullying is how the ACLU typically operates, but it is outrageous and more than a little ironic when this organization threatens legal action that would directly violate the First Amendment. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.”