The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation filed suit in federal court in Cleveland today, contesting the way in which the City of Kent, Ohio issues permits to demonstrators who wish to march on city streets.
Under the city traffic code, would-be demonstrators must carry a million dollars in liability insurance before the city will issue them a permit. The insurance requirement applies to demonstrations of every size and shape. For poor and poorly financed protestors, it puts the cost of peaceful picketing out of reach.
According to Cleveland lawyer Jessie Hill, who will handle the case for the ACLU, the insurance requirement violates the First Amendment rights of protestors. “The city can regulate speech on its streets, but not in a way that prices free expression out of reach for a significant number of would be marchers,” said Hill in a statement released by the ACLU today.
In recent months, the City has strictly enforced the insurance requirement against a number of demonstrations, forcing organizers to scale down their marches, and use city sidewalks instead of streets, said ACLU of Ohio Raymond Vasvari, who is also counsel in the case.
The Plaintiff, Christopher Fox, is a member of the Kent State Antiwar Committee, and has been active in political causes in the city in that capacity. He and others intend to organize political rallies and marches in Kent in the months ahead, but cannot afford the insurance required to obtain parade permits, keeping them off the streets on pain of arrest.
The lawsuit, Fox v. City of Kent, et al., seeks no monetary damages, but only a judicial determination that the city permit scheme violates the First Amendment.