In Ohio and across the nation, civil liberties issues are constantly evolving. New and unique cases come up everyday, cases that may not fit neatly into any previously defined issue.
What's Happening in Ohio
CLEVELAND — Cleveland State University is our alma mater, and we are proud of that, because it was an institution where we were absolutely free to explore our thoughts and attitudes as we grew as students.
Part of that growth was being allowed to affiliate with progressive groups that we agreed with. An equal part was having to confront groups with opposing views. Some of those views were deeply offensive; even oppressive.
The freedom to engage with that in a safe, open forum allowed us to grow into advocates.
Now the university has announced that it will designate some groups or individuals on campus as being unfit to speak there. Cleveland State has launched an “internal investigation” into anti-Semitic tweets that some former and current students made on personal accounts in recent years. CSU officials have pledged to actively monitor students’ personal social media in the future, sending the message that beliefs that run counter to the university’s will not be tolerated. This decision crosses a serious line.
Some of these tweets had hateful and oppressive things to say. They disparaged Jews on the basis of their ethnicity. They insulted black individuals because of their race and LGBT individuals because of their gender or sexual orientation.
But allowing the university to make itself the arbiter of what is “good” or “bad” speech leaves the campus community’s First Amendment rights up to the whims of individuals in power. If history is any indication, once government officials have that power, they will always overreach. What’s more, if we silence hateful attitudes — and instead allow the school to censor them — we lose the opportunity to learn how to engage with and defeat those attitudes.
CSU’s investigation into student tweets was triggered by canarymission.org, an anonymous website that scours digital media for anti-Semitic comments. Recently, the site published a report on the Cleveland area, revealing tweets from local residents that purportedly used slurs against various groups. Some tweets contained no slurs, but only political statements critical of Israel and supportive of Palestinians. Regardless of the message, the university should not be silencing them.
CSU President Ronald Berkman is understandably concerned about what students say, but he cannot punish opinions students offer on private accounts.
As part of the internal investigation, school officials have called several current students into meetings to address the issue.
This is how free speech is chilled, and differing opinions are silenced. It also sets a dangerous precedent that any student who posts something on their personal social media account that university officials deem offensive could be in line for punishment.
In his letter to the campus, President Berkman pledged to proactively monitor students’ social media accounts for speech that he deems offensive.
What about students who oppose abortion and post photos of fetuses? Or students who oppose police brutality and post curse words when referring to law enforcement? Or students who post graphic photos of Syrian people killed in the civil war?
CSU is opening a Pandora’s Box of potential censorship. School officials should not position themselves as the arbiters of political speech, deciding what may be posted and what may not.
CSU says it will hold a campuswide event in the fall to promote civility and an inclusive atmosphere. That is an idea we can support. The best answer to speech we find challenging is more speech. It provides the opportunity for community members to discuss the underlying issues that led to the speech; for those who were impacted to discuss how it affected them; and for people to collectively determine ways to address hard issues in the future.
The university has a role in serving as a marketplace of ideas and providing space for people to process complex issues. Policing free speech undermines that role. A public university’s power to run surveillance and conformity operations on student speech is constitutionally limited. Students may have their own values, even when offensive and even when counter to those of the institution.
CSU administrators should allow this to be a teachable moment that affirms students’ First Amendment right to express their political beliefs on social media, no matter what those beliefs are.
Christine Link is executive director and Elizabeth Bonham is staff attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. Both attended Cleveland State University.
The ACLU of Ohio defends everyone’s right to Constitutionally-protected free speech, regardless of the content. Sometimes this means defending unpopular organizations and opinions. We know that if we want speech to be protected for anyone, it must be protected for everyone, including anti-abortion activists that protest outside clinics. Censorship never stops with a single group or idea. By silencing abortion opponents, we increase the likelihood of the government silencing the women that teach us why abortion access deserves the most rigorous defense.
In June 2016, Cleveland hosted the Republican National Convention. Cleveland delayed approving the event permits for rallies and marches organized by Citizens for Trump and Organize Ohio. On June 14, 2016, the ACLU of Ohio successfully sued the city of Cleveland for restrictions on public assembly. This agreement decreased the size of the Event Zone (an area designated for special restrictions on public assembly and items people may carry) and the official parade route was altered to increase the visibility of demonstrators. Additionally, the ACLU of Ohio monitored the credentialing process and flight restrictions that would restrict access to the convention.
Students have a right to free speech, just like everyone else. In some cases, students have been suspended because of social media posts or because they conducted voter registration drives at a football game. Teachers, parents and administrators should encourage student civic engagement rather than stifle it.
While Ohioans cannot vote while incarcerated for a felony conviction, people who have been convicted of a felony can vote after they are released, and people convicted of a misdemeanor or awaiting trial can cast absentee ballots while in jail. Many are not aware of voting rights for people with criminal convictions. With thousands of Ohioans released from prison or jail, placed on probation, parole, or in a halfway house every year, it is critical to educate Ohioans on their voting rights.
The First Amendment ensures that clergy of all faiths can perform marriage duties in a manner fitting with their beliefs––including refusing to solemnize same-sex marriages— without fear of government intrusion. Bills—such as the Pastor Protection Act and Religious Freedom Restoration Act—that open the door for discrimination against LGBTQ people under the guise of protecting religious liberty are unnecessary. LGBTQ rights, marriage equality, and religious liberty can all be protected. They are not mutually exclusive.
There is a lot of work to be done to make sure transgender people are not just visible but accepted, supported, and treated equally under the law. Visibility and legal protection are closely related; knowing a transgender person is a good indicator that an individual will support non-discrimination polices. Days like the International Transgender Day of Visibility are key to raising awareness about the discrimination transgender and gender-nonconforming people face. We must continue to amplify the voices and stories of transgender and gender-nonconforming communities to end the violence and discrimination they face.
The ACLU of Ohio’s Public Records & Open Meetings: A Guide for Activists is a valuable resource that can aid organizations and individuals in various campaigns. It’s everyone’s right to be active in the political process, whether it’s attending city council meetings or requesting documents from them. Transparency is key to holding our government accountable.
Check Out the Ohio Attorney General’s Sunshine Laws Manual.
People of color are often targeted by unnecessary stops, disproportionate responses, and excessive use of force. A critical aspect to police reform and accountability is the implementation and maintenance of body cameras. However, body cameras also raise important questions about civil liberties, which the ACLU of Ohio is equally concerned about.
“Sanctuary city” is a term broadly applied to municipalities (as well as counties and states) that have adopted policies promising to serve and protect all of their residents, regardless of their immigration status. These policies can include not inquiring about a person’s resident status, only honoring detainer requests that are accompanied by a judicial warrant, or not requiring local law enforcement to enforce national immigration laws. The federal government is seeking to force local authorities to enforce Immigration and Customs Enforcement laws by threatening to cut off grants. Bullying municipalities through defunding is fundamentally wrong, and requiring cities to spend local tax dollars on federal law enforcement promotes distrust between police officers and the residents they serve and protect.
Since 9/11, Muslims have been subjected to unlawful state surveillance, profiling, and deportation for imagined threats to the United States. This treatment has permanent consequences for individuals and their families and is a stain on our collective conscience. In his first days in office, President Donald Trump acted on his campaign promise of “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” by implementing anti-immigrant executive orders.
By January 27th, 2017, three executive orders were signed by the president concerning immigration. The “Muslim Ban” restricted immigration from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for 90 days, suspended all refugee entry for 120 days, and suspended Syrian refugee entry indefinitely. After numerous court cases, including one filed by the ACLU, federal courts stepped in to stop the “Muslim Ban” from being implemented.
Weeks later, the president signed a revised executive order, dubbed by the media “Muslim Ban 2.0.” The revisions removed Iraq from the list of banned countries as well as language about preferential treatment to non-Muslims, and exempted all visa and green-card holders. It also replaced the complete ban of Syrian refugees with a 120-day freeze. What stayed the same? The discriminatory and unconstitutional core of the executive order. As of March 16, federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland stopped the Trump administration from refusing to grant visas from six predominantly-Muslim countries on the grounds of religious discrimination. In Hawaii, the judge went further to also stop the freeze of Syrian refugee entry.
The ACLU will remain vigilant as we fight against unconstitutional and discriminatory legislation, policy, and executive orders. Learn More
Every day nearly 450,000 people languish in jail without ever being convicted of a crime. Ohio’s punitive bail system is costly, racially biased, counterproductive, and a key driver of mass incarceration. People suffer in local jails while awaiting trial, and low-level offenses such as drug possession cause many working Ohioans to lose their jobs. Most importantly, putting bail out of reach for thousands of low-income people violates our fundamental principle of innocent until proven guilty. The ACLU of Ohio recommends reasonable and achievable reforms to end this unjust practice.
Read our resource Bail Reform: A Civil Liberties Briefing.
The ACLU believes that everyone has the right to be themselves and that people should not be discriminated against based on their gender identity.Visit our Transgender Spotlight webpage which includes video stories of transgender Ohioans, as well as, information on criminal justice and healthcare issues, trans know your rights, and even a service directory.
Ohio legislators feed mass incarceration by introducing bills that would send more people to our jails and prison for longer periods of time.
This year, Ohio legislators have already introduced three bills that would expand penalties and sentences for drug use so far this year. SB 1, HB 4, and SB 42 further criminalize drug use, which should be treated through public health methods like rehabilitation, treatment, and education. These misguided bills continue to fill our already-overcrowded prisons and jails, without helping Ohioans.
SB 1: Revise Drug Laws
- Primary Sponsor: Senator Frank LaRose (R)
- Status: Approved by the Senate
- Summary: SB 1 will increase penalties for fentanyl, including low-level possession, and treat mixtures added to fentanyl the same as fentanyl for sentencing purposes. Learn more.
HB 4: Prescribe how cocaine is to be measured for offense
- Primary Sponsors: Representative Robert Cupp (R), Representative John Rogers (D)
- Status: Passed House (97-0); Currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee
- Summary: HB 4 will change how cocaine is measured for determining trafficking and possession sentences, and treat mixtures added to cocaine (like baking soda) the same as cocaine for sentencing purposes. Learn more.
SB 42: Specify that referring to a drug also refers to compounds
- Primary Sponsor: Senator John Eklund (R)
- Status: As Introduced; Currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee
- Summary: SB 42 will expand drug offense penalties to compounds and mixtures – treating mixtures added to drugs the same as the actual drug. Learn more.
Every session of the Ohio General Assembly, laws are introduced to create new crimes and enhance sentences for crimes already on the books. Now our jails and prisons are overflowing, and prisons designed to house 38,000 people hold nearly 51,000. This is mass incarceration by a thousand cuts.
The ACLU of Ohio reviewed all 1,004 bills introduced during the 2015-2016 legislative session and found nearly 1 in 10 included language to lock more people up longer. Sixteen of these bills became law. We’re calling on Ohio’s General Assembly to stop acting as a factory that produces new crimes and longer sentences to support an uninterrupted flow of prisoners into a legal pipeline that ends in jail or prison. Read Ohio’s Statehouse-to-Prison Pipeline 2017.
The ACLU created this informational guide to assist Ohioans in having productive conversations with their United States Senators and Representatives at Town Hall meetings. We highlighted some of the most pressing issues of 2017, including but not limited to the Muslim Ban, Sanctuary Cities, and Border Protection. We also included sample questions that may be of use to constituents and grass roots organizations. Please feel free to share with other members in your community!
The United States government is using “predictive judgment” to prevent certain people from using commercial air transportation. In other words, the government is trying to predict whether people might commit a terrorist act, whether or not they have a criminal record.
According to Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project, the feds “launched its predictive judgment model without any evidence whatsoever about its accuracy…or the extent to which it results in errors.”
Because the government predicts these people—innocent U.S. citizens—might engage in violence at some unknown future time, it has grounded them indefinitely on a federal “no-fly list.”
People on this list need ways of redress to demonstrate their innocence of crimes they haven’t committed. The government refuses to provide these safeguards in its current system. It also declines to tell these people the reasons it has for predicting misconduct or what evidence it has collected, leaving them to guess. Finally, it will not provide a hearing for people to press their case and challenge government witnesses.
The ACLU has asked the courts, on behalf of victims of predictive judgment, to strike down the government’s current redress process and make it responsive to those wronged by predictive judgment.
Civil libertarians from across Ohio are coming together in Columbus on July 26 for the 2014 ACLU of Ohio biennial conference, Resist. Reclaim. Restore Your Rights!
Be there to get the latest information from nationally recognized experts on the state of civil liberties in Ohio, and find out how you can be a part of our work on privacy, debtors’ prisons, disability rights, death penalty reform, LGBT rights, religious liberty, reproductive freedom, prison privatization, and more.
Visit the conference page for more information and registration.
Because Freedom Can’t Protect Itself.
August 28, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, one of the largest civil rights rallies in history.
Here you will find a collection of articles, videos, photos and planned events that commemorate that day in 1963, when a quarter of a million people descended upon the nation’s capital to demand liberty and justice for all.
- 50 Years of Dreaming (ACLU of Ohio blog post on the march)
- ACLU History: Fighting for Racial Justice
- A Timeline of the Civil Rights struggle
- The Unfinished March: a report from the Economic Policy Institute
- Color Photographs from the march
- Documentary Footage from the march
- Footage of Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech at the march
Your Voice! Your Power!, held in Columbus in July of 2012, connected over 200 activists who are fighting for civil liberties across the state of Ohio. With plenary sessions, workshops, resources and opportunities to network, activists returned home with the tools to make a difference in their communities.
Information about the 2012 conference agenda and speakers is available here.
The American Legislative Exchange Council – an organization formed to promulgate pro-corporate, often anti-civil libertarian legislation through a network of local legislators. They are a major force behind efforts to undermine the Bill of Rights by privatizing public services and assets.
Here’s how it works…
Corporate ALEC members vote behind closed doors with ALEC member legislators to approve “model” legislation designed to undermine civil liberties. In the Ohio General Assembly, ALEC member legislators push for those ALEC bills to become law without any disclosure of the role ALEC played in writing or pre-voting on the bills.
ALEC in Ohio
- About 43% of Ohio’s current legislators are ALEC members.
- From January to October of 2011, 33 bills were introduced in Ohio identical to or containing elements from 64 different ALEC “model” proposals.
- Nine of those bills were signed into law.
ALEC’s fingerprints are everywhere. They’re behind…
- The Voter ID bill, requiring voters to provide photo identification at the polls;
- Efforts to privatize Ohio’s prisons; and
- Attempts to undermine public education, immigrant rights, and more.
The ACLU of Ohio is fighting back…and winning!
With help from coalition partners and members, Voter ID was scuttled and only one prison was sold to a private corporation.
The ACLU is using every tool in its arsenal to turn the tables on ALEC. Advocating and lobbying in order to protect our fundamental freedoms. Taking Ohio back from special interest groups who are trying to hijack our rights. Advocating for laws that expand freedoms and protect constitutional rights.
Help us fight back ALEC’s agenda and protect freedom!
Learn more about ALEC at ALECExposed.org.