- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union is warning officials in a small northeast Nebraska city against trying to muzzle a resident who has been critical of their actions.

The ACLU of Nebraska sent a letter Tuesday to Creighton City Attorney Andrew Marshall warning that it stands ready to defend Mike Nutting if the city makes any attempt “to prevent him from speaking out on issues of public interest.”

“Government attempts at censorship run afoul of the First Amendment and are deeply un-American,” the letter from ACLU Nebraska staff attorney Joel Donahue said. “Our nation was founded in part on the principles of open debate and the right of citizens to publicly disagree with those in power.”

The controversy began when city officials in Creighton - a city of fewer than 1,200 about 155 miles northwest of Omaha - told Nutting to stop writing letters to the editor of a local newspaper criticizing their actions. City officials complained that Nutting provided false information on local bank interest rates in his criticism of a city administrator and that one of his letters regarding the administrator was sexist. At the City Council’s request, Marshall also demanded a written apology from Nutting, which was to be approved by the City Council before being published in the local newspaper.

Nutting refused to apologize and wrote yet another critical letter published in the paper in December, and the City Council began the process of considering legal action against him.

Neither Marshall nor any members of the Creighton City Council returned phone messages left Wednesday by The Associated Press.

Nutting said in a written statement that the city’s actions are not just about freedom of speech, but about unfettered participation in government.

“I want an open government that shares what it is doing,” Nutting said in the statement. “The Creighton City Council is not just censoring me, but discouraging anyone from speaking up and being involved.”

Nutting could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Donahue said the U.S. Supreme Court has long upheld that speech on matters of public concern is protected, regardless of the accuracy of that speech.

“This includes the right to be rude, sexist, offensive and even outright wrong,” Donahue said. “The fact that Mr. Nutting may have made one or more mistakes of fact in his letters to the editor does not change the constitutional analysis. No democracy can function if those who would challenge the government live in fear of a lawsuit if they speak their minds.”