Fluvanna County violated the First Amendment by passing an ordinance that prevented a resident from using the county’s official seal on his website, a federal judge ruled Friday.
In his order, U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon granted Fluvanna County blogger Bryan Rothamel’s motion for summary judgment and prohibited county officials from enforcing their ordinance restricting use of the county seal without approval.
Rothamel, 23, operates The Fluco Blog, an online site that covers news and sports in Fluvanna County.
“I can’t tell you how exciting this day has been,” Rothamel said Friday. “This time last year, I was a 22-year-old blogger living at my parents’ house and not a lot of people thought I was as legitimate as I thought I was. It’s an exciting day for The Fluco Blog.”
Attorneys for the county could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Rothamel filed a federal lawsuit in December against Fluvanna County, accusing the locality of violating the First and Fourteenth Amendment by adopting an ordinance that limits the use of the official Fluvanna seal.
The Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance last September that only permitted use of the seal with the board’s permission.
In February, the board approved an amendment of the ordinance mirroring Virginia’s code on the state seal. State law prohibits use of the commonwealth’s seal for nongovernmental purposes unless authorized by law.
“This court decision is a resounding victory for the First Amendment right to expression,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, an Albemarle County-based civil liberties organization. “This was a governmental attempt to censor a citizen’s free speech and the court rightly condemned the county for it.”
In his order, Moon said “the deprivation of Rothamel’s First Amendment freedoms easily outweighs whatever burden the injunction imposes on the county.”
Rothamel said he reached out to the Rutherford Institute after the county passed the ordinance because he couldn’t afford his own attorney to fight the ordinance. He credits the Rutherford Institute and his attorneys for the victory in court.
Charlottesville attorneys Jeffrey E. Fogel and Steven D. Rosenfield represented Rothamel in the lawsuit.
Rothamel plans to continue The Fluco Blog and has already placed the county seal up on the blog alongside a news release from the Rutherford Institute proclaiming victory in his case.
“I’m going to keep reporting the news, and The Fluco Blog is going to continue to grow,” Rothamel said. “It’s a great day.”