Robert Balon, a man in Gorham, New Hampshire, runs a Facebook page called “Welcome to Reality” where he shares his opinion and spouts off about local officials. However, one of Balon’s targets, Gorham police chief PJ Cyr, tried to get him to stop with a letter threatening legal action. That’s when things got messy.
Cyr wrote Balon a letter on official Gorham police department letterhead telling him to stop, and he included information about a New Hampshire supreme court case where another man had been convicted of criminal threatening and stalking for similar behavior. However, Balon fired back at the chief and reached out to the state’s governor and attorney general, and soon the New Hampshire ACLU had taken up his case.
According to the ACLU, nothing Balon said could be construed as a threat against Cyr, and the police chief overstepped his bounds by utilizing his office to punish Balon.
“The appropriate response is not to use the department’s police powers to suppress Mr. Balon’s speech but rather to engage in counterspeech,” said the group’s staff attorney, Gilles Bissonnette. “The chief of police, like all police officers and public officials, should expect that, as part of his job, he will be exposed to criticism and communications that will not always be comfortable.”
Bissonnette also said that Balon will not comply with Cyr’s order, and will not remove any of the content he posts.
Free speech is a murky legal topic, especially online. While Balon likely crossed several personal lines in his tirades against the police chief, it’s unclear whether his online behavior actually broke any laws.