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Ohio court strikes down order restricting future commentary

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A judge’s order forbidding a man from making Internet postings in the future about two family members is unconstitutional, the Ohio Supreme Court said in a unanimous ruling.

At issue before the court were social media and other comments by a western Ohio man accusing his sister of contributing to her husband’s death in 2015 and accusing his mother of contributing to his father’s separate death in 2008.

The postings also accused local officials in Mercer County from failing to properly investigate the deaths. In 2018, a judge granted the women a stalking protection order that prohibited the man from having any contact with them.

The judge’s order also forbade the man from posting “in any manner that expresses, implies, or suggests” that the women were culpable in their husbands’ deaths.

That order is an unconstitutional restraint on free speech, the state Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision Tuesday.

The civil protection orders were meant to relieve the mental distress the women experienced from the postings, Justice Michael Donnelly wrote.

“But the means chosen to provide that relief–with its virtually unlimited restraint on the content of future postings about appellees–went far beyond anything that the factual record before us can sustain and the First Amendment can tolerate,” the justice said.