Free Speech Press Release

04.20.00

ACLU of Ohio Settles Lawsuit Involving Censored T-Shirt

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio Foundation, Inc. announced that it successfully settled a lawsuit on April 19th against the City of Northwood involving the unconstitutional censorship of a t-shirt by Northwood Police. The terms of the settlement include $4,500 in damages to Daniel Shellhammer, the youth whose t-shirt was confiscated, $500 to his mother, Tammy Feister, $2,500 in attorneys fees to the ACLU and an official apology from the city. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in January 2000.

The controversy that resulted in the lawsuit stretches back to August 1999 when Shellhammer and a friend were walking in Northwood, a suburb of Toledo. Both were clad in t-shirts featuring the Insane Clown Posse, a popular band known for its coarse lyrics and outlandish stage antics. As Shellhammer and his friend were walking down the street, they were stopped by Northwood Police who proceeded to tell them that their shirts, which displayed profanity, were “banned” in the State of Ohio. The officers then told Shellhammer to remove his shirt or they would “tear it off his back” if he did not comply. Shellhammer’s shirt was subsequently confiscated but not before he was threatened with criminal prosecution. The other youth was made to turn his shirt inside-out.

The announcement of the successful settlement was welcomed by the ACLU of Ohio. “We’re happy to see that Northwood officials realized they could not justify such a flagrant violation of constitutional rights by its police officers and wisely chose to end this case,” said Raymond Vasvari, Legal Director for the ACLU of Ohio. “Police exist primarily to protect citizens against crime, not against foul language which, while objectionable to some, is fully protected by the Constitution of the United States,” added Vasvari.