Petersburg settles in free speech case

constitutionThe City of Petersburg and its mayor have agreed to a settlement in the case of a resident who was denied the right to speak at a city council meeting because he had not paid an unrelated fine to the city.

Terms of the agreement, reached Nov. 23, require the city to pay $3,000 in attorneys’ fees to the ACLU of Virginia for its representation of Linwood Christian in the case. In addition, the city agreed to issue the following statement which has been posted to its website:

“The City and the Mayor support the first (sic) Amendment and the right of the citizens and business owners of Petersburg to participate in the public information period of City Council meetings in accordance with the Rules of Council.

“The City and the Mayor acknowledge the concerns Mr. Christian has raised about being denied the opportunity to speak during the public information period of a City Council meeting held on January 20, 2015. We are glad that Mr. Christian has been able to speak at a number of subsequent public information periods, and we will continue to ensure that Mr. Christian and all other eligible members of the Petersburg community are permitted to exercise their First Amendment Rights.”

The ACLU of Virginia filed suit against Petersburg and Mayor W. Howard Myers in July following Christian being prohibited from speaking at a council meeting in January.

“The City of Petersburg hopefully has learned a hard lesson about respecting the rights of its citizens to participate in public forums,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga.

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