New Hampshire Town Tells Councilors Not to Speak to the Press

Legislators have First Amendment rights, free speech group warns in letter to Londonderry Town Council

October 26, 2020   •  By IFS Staff   •  
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Washington, DC – The Institute for Free Speech sent a letter to the Londonderry, New Hampshire Town Council late Friday warning that recent directions given to councilors may violate the First Amendment. Councilor Debra Paul contacted the Institute after the town attorney and other councilors instructed her not to comment on public matters on social media or in local newspapers.

“Being a council member does not diminish a person’s First Amendment right to speak about public affairs. The town council has no more authority to control a councilor’s speech than it does an average citizen’s,” said Institute for Free Speech Attorney Owen Yeates, one of the attorneys who signed the letter.

At a July town council hearing, Chair John Farrell cited “an element of distrust and instances of incivility that reflect poorly on all of us” before urging that “neither social media nor [a] local newspaper is a proper place for a councilor to express the councilor’s opinion about town issues. The only proper place is here, in the town council chambers, at a town council meeting, so if you have something to say, bring it here.”

The warning was particularly chilling to Ms. Paul, who is the publisher of the Londonderry Times, Nutfield News, and the Tri-Town Times.

The Institute’s letter to the Londonderry Town Council explains that “town leaders can work to persuade one another to maintain decorum and comity, as well as a spirit of unity, in the council’s proceedings and actions. The instructions given to Londonderry’s town councilors, however, reach beyond these situations, chilling under the color of law discussion about public affairs that ‘is the essence of self-government.’”

“The town should clarify its policies regarding open meetings laws and conflicts of interests, as well as the right of council members to speak. This will protect both the First Amendment rights of council members and the town from possible First Amendment retaliation litigation,” the letter concludes.

To read the letter, click here.

About the Institute for Free Speech

The Institute for Free Speech is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that promotes and defends the First Amendment rights to freely speak, assemble, publish, and petition the government. Originally known as the Center for Competitive Politics, it was founded in 2005 by Bradley A. Smith, a former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. The Institute is the nation’s largest organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political rights.

IFS Staff

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