LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — The City of Lansing obtained a temporary restraining order Wednesday against a podcasting couple.
“Defendants are enjoined from using the City Seal in any document, publication, or other form of physical or electronic media,” the order reads, “in support of their personal political beliefs in any manner that conveys a false impression of sponsorship or approval by City of Lansing.”
The order was issued late Wednesday by Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Wanda Stokes, Lansing City Attorney Jim Smiertka tells 6 News.
The restraining order will be in effect until at least Nov. 7. That’s when Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina will hold a 1 p.m. hearing on the action. Nov. 7 is the day the election will be held in Lansing, including on the question as to whether or not the city should create a charter commission.
The couple was sent a cease and desist letter last month by Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope. The letter demanded they stop using the city seal in promoting their support of approving a ballot initiative to rewrite the city’s charter. The charter is a key governing and administrative document for the city.
“This feels harassing to us,” Michael Lynn told 6 News before the judge issued the order, “and this is obviously something that we do, is speak on governmental issues. We brought a lot of things to light. We’ve opened a lot of doors that they probably didn’t want open.”
Lynn declined to make the post in question available to 6 News, expressing concern he could face more legal stress from the city. But the graphic he made sported the official city of Lansing logo, with the phrase: “Nov. 7th, Vote yes on the Charter General Revision, Our Time Is Now.” And the graphic included the ‘Merica 20 to Life logo as well.
He argues his use is protected by the First Amendment. “It wasn’t surprising because the city is always like sticking their foot in stuff like this,” he says. “They don’t understand the Constitution, that’s obvious.”
Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope signed the letter. It says the clerk is responsible for how the seal is used and cracking down on any non-approved use related to elections. Such uses are “inappropriate and risk confusing the residents of the city of Lansing,” he wrote in his letter.
“Someone could see that symbol and think the city is advocating for one vote, yes, no, or for a candidate,” Swope says. “You know, we have had issues with candidates, so we try to maintain control of that.”
Nancy Costello runs the Michigan State University First Amendment Law Clinic. She reviewed the documents related to the letter and the controversy and said using the logo in an election context could create a legal battle.
“Taking the city seal suggests the city endorses what they are putting forth and advocating for,” Costello tells 6 News, “and number 1, the city doesn’t necessarily endorse it nor should the city be endorsing something like that.”