The ACLU of Maryland contends Gov. Larry Hogan's deletion of Facebook comments is tantamount to censorship.
The civil rights organization sent the Republican governor a letter Friday outlining its legal argument that Hogan violated the First Amendment rights of his constituents when he deleted their comments from his official Facebook page and banned some people from posting.
The letter said Hogan's actions also violate the state's social media policy, and it asked the governor to reinstate seven ACLU clients who have been banned.
"If he does not, we'll take him to court," said Deborah Jeon, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Hogan's staff said in a statement they reinstated six out of the seven people, but could not find a Facebook profile for the seventh.
"We appreciate them identifying a handful of individuals — out of the over 1 million weekly viewers of the page — that may have been inadvertently denied access," Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said in a statement. "We have already reinstated these individuals, however we will be monitoring them closely for any profane, violent, racist, or inappropriate posts — including political spamming attacks."
Chasse also said "the ACLU should be focusing on much more important activities than monitoring the governor's Facebook page."
Since he took office two years ago, Hogan has banned 450 people from leaving comments on his social media page, aides estimated. Scores were recently banned after Hogan's page was bombarded with requests to take a position on Republican President Donald J. Trump's controversial travel ban that barred immigrants from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States.
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer has said that the press staff considers such efforts "spam" and that they have a responsibility to curate the conversation online.
"We've had to remove and prevent coordinated political spam attacks from infiltrating and hijacking the page," Mayer said when the controversy surfaced two weeks ago. "We have an obligation to the 146,000 people who likes the governor's page to keep the conversation fresh, appropriate, and on topic."
Hogan has not taken a position on the travel ban, and bristled at requests for him to make comments about the Trump administration. The governor did not support Trump as a candidate.
In their letter, the ACLU contend Hogan appeared to have blocked their clients "seemingly because you did not wish to address their questions on various issues or respond to their concerns about your silence in the face of violations of civil rights and liberties by President Donald Trump and his administration."
Several other local politicians also ban posters on their Facebook page, according to The Washington Post, but do not exclude as many as the Hogan administration.
The Maryland Democratic Party and the government accountability group Common Cause have also criticized the governor for silencing constituents on Facebook.