AUGUSTA, Maine — The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine sued Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday in federal court, alleging that he violated constitutional free-speech rights by blocking two critical commenters from his Facebook page and deleting their comments.

The 20-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court follows a July letter from the group asked the Republican governor to stop censoring his Facebook page, which has nearly 40,000 followers and is often used to share information about his activities as governor.

After that letter, LePage issued a post dismissing the threat of a lawsuit as a liberal “attack” against him, saying it’s not a government page. While it calls itself LePage’s “official page,” it is run by political adviser Brent Littlefield and not by his taxpayer-paid communications staff.

But the ACLU of Maine has rejected that, noting that the page is used to share government information. The group’s lawsuit calls it “a limited public forum” where commenters are protected by free-speech rights and that LePage’s actions “constitute unlawful, viewpoint-based exclusion.”

The plaintiffs are Karin Leuthy of Camden and Kelli Whitlock Burton of Waldoboro, who co-founded Suit Up Maine, a progressive group boasting more than 5,000 members.

The lawsuit claims that Leuthy and Burton criticized LePage in July comments. However, they were soon deleted and both women were blocked from posting or reacting to comments on the page.

It asks the federal court to declare the censorship unconstitutional, force LePage to stop censoring comments and restore posting privileges of banned commenters and pay legal fees for the two plaintiffs. Littlefield declined comment on the lawsuit.

Facebook censorship has recently become a pet issue for the ACLU: The Maryland chapter sued Republican Gov. Larry Hogan on a similar issue earlier this month and the Indiana chapter sued two cities there in 2016.

Watch for updates.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...