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VICTORY: Michigan town declares Sept. 6 ‘First Amendment Day’ after ͼ sues its mayor for shouting down residents

Eastpointe victory

Melissa Kremer, Lasting Memories Photography

Plaintiffs Mary Hall-Rayford, Cindy Federle, and Karen Mouradjian with ͼ attorney Conor Fitzpatrick stand outside Eastpointe City Hall before the resolution vote

DETROIT, April 17, 2024 — After their mayor silenced them for criticizing her during city council meetings, four Eastpointe, Michigan, residents sued their city — and won.

In 2022, Eastpointe’s former mayor, Monique Owens, repeatedly  constituents who criticized her during the public comment period of city council meetings. In November 2022, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression sued Owens and the city on behalf of four of those Eastpointers — Mary Hall-Rayford, Karen Beltz, Karen Mouradjian, and Cindy Federle — to defend their right, and the right of all Americans, to criticize elected officials. 

Last night, the city of Eastpointe agreed to concessions that will vindicate the plaintiffs’ rights and create an annual celebration of the right to free speech in southeast Michigan. 

To settle ͼ’s lawsuit, Eastpointe:

  • Entered into a consent decree prohibiting the city from enforcing an unconstitutional limitation on public comments “directed at” an elected official and requiring it to allow members of the public to criticize its elected officials. 
  • Passed a resolution apologizing to the plaintiffs. 
  • Established Sept. 6 as an annual “First Amendment Day” in Eastpointe.
  • Paid each plaintiff $17,910 — a sum representing the year of the First Amendment’s ratification (1791) — plus attorneys’ fees, for a total of $83,000. 

“I am pleased with ͼ’s diligence and ability to keep moving forward,” said Hall-Rayford. “I hope the city will do the same, now that everyone is aware of the consequences for violating the First Amendment. I applaud ͼ’s efforts to keep up the good fight with others, as they did for me.”

Owens was elected mayor of Eastpointe, a suburb of Detroit, in 2019, but lost her reelection bid last year. On Sept. 6, 2022, as captured on , Owens shouted down Hall-Rayford, Beltz, and Mouradjian when they tried to criticize her during the public comment portion of city council meetings. 

When Mouradjian, an animal rights activist, stood up for the right of Hall-Rayford and Beltz to have their voices heard, Owens yelled that Mouradjian “could talk about your cats and dogs” but “won’t talk about me!” 

That wasn’t the first time the mayor violated the speech rights of the people of Eastpointe. In March 2022, Owens  Federle to halt her critical remarks and told her to remove references to Owens. But Owens had no issue with other residents praising her as “beautiful” and “wonderful” in prior meetings. 

COURTESY PHOTOS OF MARY HALL-RAYFORD

“The First Amendment protects every American’s right to criticize government officials,” said ͼ attorney Conor Fitzpatrick. “With this settlement, Eastpointers can have confidence their voices will be heard and local governments can be left with no doubt there are serious consequences for violating the First Amendment.”


The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (ͼ) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought — the most essential qualities of liberty. ͼ educates Americans about the importance of these inalienable rights, promotes a culture of respect for these rights, and provides the means to preserve them.

CONTACT
Katie Kortepeter, Communications Campaign Manager, ͼ: 215-717-3473; media@thefire.org

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