COLUMBUS – The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has dismissed a lawsuit against the city of Columbus over a 2012 permit ordinance that made it harder for political groups to exercise their First Amendment rights in public.
In exchange, the city has revised their ordinance to lower permit costs and make it easier to obtain permit extensions. The revisions also set clear standards for permit approval and create an appeals process for those who are denied.
“Our major concern with the ordinance was that it gave the government the power to suppress political opinions they didn't like, without any real standards or mechanism for oversight,” said ACLU of Ohio Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Martinez Atzberger. “We believe the city’s revisions have addressed these concerns.”
The Columbus ordinance impacts any group that uses “structures” like podiums, tables or tents to deliver their political messages. Before the revisions, permit criteria and fee were confusing and vague, allowing the government to arbitrarily pick and choose who was entitled to a permit and how much money they were required to pay.
The ACLU of Ohio sued the city on behalf of Occupy Columbus, alleging that the vague criteria, higher permit fees, longer waiting periods for approval, lack of an appeals process, and new criminal penalties for violating the confusing rules made it next to impossible to engage in political expression.
“Under the revised rule, many of these problems have been corrected,” said Atzberger. “Most importantly, residents of Columbus will again be able to exercise one of our nation’s most fundamental forms of free speech by ‘standing on the soapbox’ to express their political beliefs.”