Amiyah Cohoon of Westfield Area High School in Oxford, Wis., won a federal lawsuit against a Marquette County Sheriff who threatened her with arrest if she did not take down posts claiming that she had COVID-19.
U.S. District Judge Brett Ludwig ruled in Cohoon’s favor — claiming that her First Amendment rights were violated.
“The First Amendment is not a game setting for the government to toggle off and on,” said Ludwig. "Demanding a 16-year-old remove protected speech from her Instagram account is a First Amendment violation.”
Cohoon took to social media last spring to talk about her experience with COVID-19. Following a band trip she took with her high school in March 2020, Cohoon fell ill, presumably with COVID-19. Court documents revealed that she had tested negative for the virus, however, doctors assumed she had it, but missed the testing window.
On March 26, 2020, she posted a picture on Instagram with the caption, “I won't be back for a while longer due to me ... having the COVID-19 virus...I don't want the attention, it's just the truth.” The following post was a photo of her in an oxygen mask with the caption, “Winning the fight with Covid-19.”
Cohoon’s lawyer, Luke Berg, alleges that the next day a Marquette County deputy sheriff threatened Cohoon and her parents with jail time if she did not take the posts down. Sheriff Joseph Konrath and his deputy claimed that Cohoon created panic through her posts, as there was no proof of any COVID-19 outbreaks in the county. A school administrator publicized that Cohoon’s post was a rumor calling it a “foolish means to get attention.”
Judge Ludwig ruled Cohoon was protected under the free speech clause of the First Amendment and is therefore allowed to freely post on social media, as long as she follows community guidelines and does not specifically target anyone.
"This decision underscores that First Amendment rights cannot be dispatched within an emergency,” said Berg. “More importantly, law enforcement has no business trying to regulate the social media posts of local teenagers."