The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation will file suit in federal court in Cleveland on Tuesday, 26 August 2003, against the City of Parma Heights, Mayor Martin Zanotti, Safety Director Richard Ron and Police Captain C.J. Darnell.
The suit, brought on behalf of three citizens, is based on violations by the city of the right to free expression during the annual Memorial Day Parade, conducted by city officials.
Two citizens were threatened with arrest when they attempted to distribute leaflets critical of Mayor Zanotti and his plan to close a city recreation center. Throughout the parade, other groups were permitted to distribute flyers, some for commercial purposes.
Another citizen and a city council candidate was told he could not participate in the parade unless he removed a sign from his car supporting his council candidacy, and he and his young daughter removed shirts bearing his name. Mayor Zanotti and incumbent politicians were allowed to participate in the parade with apparel and car signs bearing their names.
Prohibiting the distribution of political literature on public sidewalks, and favoring the message of some politicians over others, are textbook violations of the First Amendment. “They could not have more clearly violated the right to free expression if they had tried,” said Andrea Whitaker, a Cleveland lawyer handling the case for the ACLU Of Ohio as a volunteer. “The favoritism, and the attempt to squelch a political message go right to the heart of what the First Amendment protects.”
This is the second time in three years the ACLU has sued the City of Parma Heights. In October 2000, lawyers for the ACLU sued on behalf of a shift of firefighters who were forced to attend church services in uniform and on city time. That case ultimately settled with a recognition by the city of wrongdoing, and the payment of damages to the firefighters.