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Court: Dane County mask order didn’t violate shop’s free speech rights

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FILE - A lone masks hangs on a coat hook, while a bar is packed with maskless customers watching the Packers beat the Rams in the playoffs on Saturday, Jan 16, 2021.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Dane County health officials didn’t violate free speech protections when they cited a Middleton cafe for advertising itself as a “mask-free zone” during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Helbachs Cafe posted a sign in July 2020 saying the shop was a “mask-free zone” in defiance of a county mask mandate. The county cited the cafe three times for failing to comply with the mandate and the shop eventually lost its lease.

Helbachs responded with a lawsuit alleging the county retaliated against the cafe for exercising free speech rights. A three-judge panel from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that to prove the county retaliated over the sign the cafe had to show a pattern of such retaliation against other businesses. The cafe failed to produce any evidence suggesting that, the judges found.

The cafe’s attorney, listed in online court records as Brent Eisberner, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

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