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Apopkans have the right to free speech; but should use it wisely

The Apopka Voice pauses its news site comment section


The First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


The First Amendment of the United States Constitution is one of the fundamental pillars of American democracy and a cornerstone for freedom of expression. The First Amendment protects several essential rights, such as freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition the government to redress grievances. But at its core, it guarantees the right to freedom of speech. 

You, as Americans and Apopkans, have the right to free speech, however it is a freedom that should be taken seriously and used wisely. No, you shouldn't yell "fire" in a theatre when there isn't a fire, but the responsibility goes much further than that old adage.

In the past few months, public discourse in Apopka has taken a pretty ugly tone. It shows up in public comments at the City Council meeting, on local social media pages, and unfortunately on The Apopka Voice as well.

It's a troubling escalation that needs to stop.

The First Amendment protects the right to assemble peacefully and to petition the government. These rights allow people to gather in public spaces to express their views collectively, whether in the form of protests, demonstrations, or public meetings. They also grant individuals the right to petition the government, presenting grievances or seeking redress for perceived injustices.

Public comments at City Council fall into that part of the First Amendment. But public comments at those meetings continue to erode into statements that do little to advance the issues they may purport to stand for. Although The Apopka Voice has no power to stop a person from using their First Amendment rights to make a public comment at a City Council meeting, we would urge you to make your four minutes count.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Will my comments contribute to an important issue?
  2. Are there personal attacks against anyone in my remarks?
  3. Is everything I say able to be proven?
  4. Will they change the direction the City Council is going?
  5. Is your topic truly something the City Council can act on?

Comments and posts on local social media pages should also follow these suggestions. It's certainly okay to be critical of elected officials. You have every right to express your opinion on how to make Apopka a better community. Just make sure you have a reason for making those criticisms, and the facts to back them up, beyond a clever, but baseless insult.

Another vital aspect of the First Amendment is freedom of the press. This provision protects the media from government interference and ensures that journalists can report on matters of public interest without censorship or reprisal. A free press plays a crucial role in holding those in power accountable, investigating and exposing corruption or wrongdoing, and providing citizens with information necessary for making informed decisions.

We at The Apopka Voice take this freedom seriously. We believe it's vital that our news site is reporting on the news and not becoming a platform for comments that stray beyond the subject, resort to insults, or make comments that are not factual or completely off topic.

We have to keep the integrity of The Apopka Voice intact.

Since 2015, we have published comments from readers on both our news site and on our social media - primarily our Facebook page. We've had very few issues over the years with reader's comments, but when we did, we dealt with them.

However, in the last few months, some comments on our news site have become unacceptable to our standards. 

On June 23rd, we received this comment from Alyssa Bender - who goes by the name "wheresthepopcorn" in reference to Commissioner Nick Nesta:

"maylinna will turn on him and make his life hell unless he stays on his side. This isn't a threat. Just a warning to be careful. You have a beautiful family, go enjoy them. Hopefully, your wife doesn't get stalked like the 1st city atty."

It's a comment Commissioner Nesta judged to be threatening to himself and his family. We are not exactly sure what Ms. Bender meant, but certainly can't prove Nesta's assertion false. We also cannot prove the identity of the commenter. 

We regret allowing that comment to stand until we learned of it at the July 5th City Council meeting.

It has always been our goal to allow ALL readers of The Apopka Voice to feel the freedom to comment on whatever platform they prefer, and to express their opinion as long as it isn't libelous, insulting or personal in nature. But now, it's time to own the error, correct the issue, and put a stop to that behavior.

For these reasons, The Apopka Voice has paused public comments on its news site. We have previously laid out guidelines for commenting, but after numerous violations, we think it's best to reassess until we find a better way to ensure the guidelines are followed.

In the meantime, readers are still welcome to use our Facebook page to express their opinions. 

We hope you understand our reasons for this temporary shift in policy. 

Opinion, The Apopka Voice, Apopka City Council, First Amendment