The First Amendment guarantees us freedom of expression. Whether it’s the right to protest, freedom of the press, or religious liberty, the ACLU of Ohio is here to defend against government intrusion into our personal, political, and religious lives.
What's Happening in Ohio
Since 9/11, a disturbing pattern of innocent people being harassed for photographing or videotaping police has emerged across the nation. In recent years, the ACLU and photographers groups have challenged restrictions against documenting police actions, and courts have agreed — what happens in public can be recorded by the public.
Unfortunately, some law enforcement still attempt to restrict the rights of photographers under the guise of “security” and a mistaken belief that photography is somehow connected to terrorism. In addition, many police fear improved technology that can often launch a small video to Internet infamy through viral marketing and social networking. The ACLU created a landing page for those interested in knowing their rights to photograph and videotape police. Read more about it here.
The ACLU of Ohio works to protect speech on a variety of fronts. While this often means defending an individual against the government, the ACLU has also become involved in SLAPP suits, or strategic litigation against public participation. In these cases, corporations or individuals sue a member of the public, often alleging they were defamed, in order to intimidate the defendant into keeping quiet.
In one case, Eric Deters v. James Jay Schifrin, Cincinnati-area attorney Eric Deters is suing the publisher of The Whistleblower, an electronic newsletter that reports on Cincinnati area politics. Deters has filed similar lawsuits against several public officials who questioned his legal knowledge. In October 2011, the ACLU announced that Deters and Schifrin agreed to a settlement. Both parties withdrew their lawsuits, and Schifrin agreed to include the details of the incident, as well as a response from Deters, in a special edition of the Whistleblower.
The ACLU also took up another case, Habeeb v. Smith, where two police officers sued a former state representative for her negative comments after they shot and killed a teenager.
Most recently, the ACLU successfully defeated a classic SLAPP suit in Robert E. Murray, et al. v. The Huffington Post.com, Inc. In September 2013, Mike Stark, a journalist and Huffington Post contributor, wrote an article titled “Meet the Extremist Coal Baron Bankrolling Ken Cuccinelli’s Campaign,” which was published by the Huffington Post. The article was highly critical of Murray Energy Corporation, and its owner, Robert E. Murray. In response to this article, Mr. Murray initiated a SLAPP suit alleging defamation, false light and invasion of privacy against the Huffington Post and Mr. Stark. On November 27, 2013, we filed a motion to dismiss, and on May 12, 2014, our motion was upheld and the lawsuit was dismissed.
Check out our legal docket for more information about these and other free speech cases.
The ACLU has filed a legal brief in this case on behalf of the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List, an anti-abortion group that planned to run a 2010 ad against Congressman Steve Driehaus, accusing him of supporting taxpayer funded abortion.
Driehaus responded by filing a complaint with the Ohio Election Commission, arguing that SBA List violated Ohio’s law against making false political statements. SBA List then filed a federal lawsuit, challenging the state law as an unconstitutional restriction on its right to free speech.
After losing his 2010 reelection bid, Driehaus withdrew his complaint. This prompted the lower courts to dismiss the SBA List lawsuit, claiming the group could not longer challenge a law that was no longer being used against it.
SBA List appealed to SCOTUS, arguing that it should still be allowed to challenge the law because it was used to suppress free speech before an election and could be used against other groups in the future.
The ACLU agrees.
This is the question before the high court: Should SBA List be permitted to move forward with its lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Ohio’s law against false political speech?
At the ACLU, we believe people have an absolute right to criticize their public officials, regardless of their political persuasion. The government is not the arbiter of truth.
We do not share SBA List’s views on reproductive freedom, but we will continue to defend its right to express those views without interference from the government.
At a meeting on September 10, 2013, Ohio Board of Education President Debe Terhar labeled Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye “pornographic” and called for its removal from state teaching guidelines for high school students. Board member Mark Smith went a step further, calling the novel part of “an underlying socialist-communist agenda.”
Hundreds of people from all over the world followed suit, sending letters to Terhar and Smith, asking them to stop promoting the censorship of important works of literature like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.
Our voices were heard! On September 26, The Ohio Department of Education announced that The Bluest Eye will not be erased from the Common Core text list.
Our nation was founded on political dissent and the right to protest remains one of our most fundamental constitutional rights.
Protest groups are beginning to emerge around the state, many affiliated in some way with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that has captured national headlines. On October 5, 2011, the ACLU of Ohio released an advisory, giving these protesters basic information about their rights, the limitations of those rights, and what to do if those rights are violated. The ACLU of Ohio has also published know-your-rights cards for protesters, in both single and four-up format.
In November 2011, two protesters were arrested while attempting to enter the Toledo City Council chambers with protest signs, despite the fact that city council had no official policy banning signs. The ACLU of Ohio held a press conference, calling on Toledo City Council to adopt an official policy and to show respect for the first amendment. Instead, Toledo City Council voted to ban all signs from city council meetings, a move the ACLU called “disrespectful” to Toledo residents.
Later that same month, The ACLU of Ohio contacted the City of Toledo a second time, following up on complaints from the Occupy Toledo movement about unclear city permit policies and calling on city leadership to set clear, constitutional rules for public demonstrations.
In December 2011, Montgomery County made news with its passage of new rules limiting free speech at Dayton’s Courthouse Square. The ACLU of Ohio spoke out against the rules and is monitoring the situation, as these new restrictions appear to target the Occupy Dayton movement specifically.
“Flash mobs” are groups of people, organized via social media, who suddenly assemble in a set location. Some of these gatherings have resulted in violence or destruction of property, and as a result, a number of Ohio communities are proposing prohibitions for social media use that may result in criminal activity.
These proposals are overbroad, potentially criminalizing protected speech, and are unnecessary, as the criminal acts that cities seek to punish are already crimes.
In July, 2011 ACLU of Ohio expressed concern over one such proposal, passed by Cleveland City Council after a large group of “unruly teenagers” caused a disturbance at a Cleveland Heights street fair. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson promptly struck down the legislation, his first-ever veto.
In December, Cleveland City Council again passed legislation targeting social media. The ACLU called the legislation a waste of time and resources and once again called on Mayor Jackson to use his veto power. However, the Mayor took no action and the allowed the ordinances to become law. The ACLU of Ohio continues to monitor the results of this unwise legislation, as well as a curfew in Cleveland Heights that was passed as an emergency measure to prevent flash mobs, but has yet to be relaxed.