In the profile picture for his Facebook page, “Re-Elect Rep. Chad Christensen,” Christensen sits in the legislature with his hand pressed to his temple. His bio says “I simply believe in freedom and try my hardest to uphold the U.S. Constitution.”
But a group of individuals are alleging he failed to do that: Five full- and part-time Idaho residents sued Christensen for blocking them on Facebook, which they said violated their first amendment rights.
The lawsuit was filed in May but Christensen said on his Facebook page it took nearly two months to be served. In the past, courts have ruled that elected officials cannot block people on social media because of their views since a public official’s page is a “public forum.”
Christensen, R-Iona, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The lead attorney, Jared Allen, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“They think it is there 1st Amendment right, because I am a politician. Also, this is mainly a campaign page, not an official government page,” Christensen said on Facebook late Wednesday night. “There has been precedent set on that.”
Christensen also took issue with what he said was an incorrect address on the lawsuit and added that three of the five individuals suing him are not constituents.
Two of the individuals, Marguerite Shaw and Suellen Carman, are Christensen’s constituents, according to court documents. Another plaintiff, Carolyn Dessin, is a part-time resident and property owner in Teton County who is a constituent of Christensen, the suit said.
Another two, Gregory Graf and Steven Thyberg, are residents of Idaho and have “taken an interest in the 2022 primary race”.
The lawsuit contends that Christensen’s page was originally named “Representative Chad Christensen” and that the intro block lists “politician” as the type of page. On April 29, Christensen was sent a written demand to unblock all Idaho citizens, the lawsuit said.
On May 8, he changed the name of the page to “Re-Elect Rep. Chad Christensen,” but the page is still the same one, the lawsuit said.
His page is filled with regular posts about campaign and government related political speech, according to court documents.
“The Facebook page has become a virtual public forum where citizens speak directly to Defendant, receive information from Defendant, and listen to and debate with both Defendant and other citizens,” the lawsuit said. “Just as they might do if gathered in a public square, a public park, a public meeting, or a town hall.”
Those who were blocked had all criticized Christensen, the lawsuit continued.
The “viewpoint-based blocking imposes a constitutional restriction on Plaintiff’s participation in a public forum,” the lawsuit continued.
In addition, the lawsuit alleges it restricts the plaintiff’s ability to petition the government for a redress of grievances, a core tenet of the First Amendment.
The lawsuit is asking for the plaintiffs to be unblocked and for Christensen to be prohibited from blocking anyone else.
Christensen is not the first politician to be sued for blocking people on social media. Most notably, the Knight First Amendment Institute sued former President Donald Trump in 2017 for blocking people on Twitter. The Knight Institute won its first case, but sued again in 2020 after Trump continued to block critics.
The Supreme Court vacated the judgment and declared the second case as moot, after Trump left office and was banned from Twitter.
Christensen lost his primary election race for house seat 35B. It is unclear if that will change the relevance of the suit.
Carolyn Komatsoulis covers Boise, Meridian and Ada County. Contact her at 208-465-8107 and follow her on Twitter @CKomatsoulis.