Fluvanna Sued Over County Seal Restrictions

Fluvanna County is being sued for their ordinance limiting the use of the county seal, Tasha Kates writes in the Daily Progress. Bryan Rothamel, the proprietor of Fluco Blog, is being represented by the Rutherford Institute in his lawsuit, in which he accuses the county of violating his constitutional rights, specifically his right to free expression and the equal protection clause. The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors adopted the ordinance just a few months ago, in response to Rothamel’s occasional use of the seal on his website, where he has used it as an icon indicating news about the county. Here’s the relevant bit of § 2-7-2 of the Fluvanna County Code:

The seal of Fluvanna County is and shall remain the property of the County. No person, entity or organization shall exhibit, display, or in any manner utilize the seal or any copy, replication, facsimile or representation of the seal, whether in printed, electronic or other format, unless such use shall have been expressly authorized by the board of supervisors.

The state has a similar law regarding the seal of Virginia, § 1-505:

The seals of the Commonwealth shall be deemed the property of the Commonwealth; and no persons shall exhibit, display, or in any manner utilize the seals or any facsimile or representation of the seals of the Commonwealth for nongovernmental purposes unless such use is specifically authorized by law.

The Secretary of the Commonwealth has long enforced this, preventing anybody from using the state seal (outside of the context of the state flag, on which it appears) that appears to imply endorsement. The logic, as I understand it, is that a seal is a government entity’s equivalent of a signature—it’s how they put their stamp on something (often literally). But the difference here is that the state doesn’t seek to stop people from using the state seal for legitimate purposes, whereas Fluvanna County appears to have passed this law for precisely that reason.

Given that Rothamel promotes on his site that the site receives 65 visits per day, it’s particularly bizarre that the county would bother to craft a law to target him. Note that, in the Daily Progress’ article, they include a prominent reproduction of the Fluvanna County seal, in flagrant violation of this new law. Good for them.

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