CLEVELAND— The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio questions Cleveland City Council’s action Wednesday repealing and replacing the ordinance regulating demonstrations without any public hearings. The hastily passed legislation updating the city of Cleveland’s permitting process limits protesters’ rights of free speech and assembly, according to ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link.

“There are several First Amendment red flags in the revised ordinance,” Link said. “It also is troubling that the city council failed to allow the community to comment on the proposed legislation, which would have afforded the opportunity for any issues to be discussed and ironed out.”

The new ordinance applies to parades and protests on city streets, parks, malls and other public spaces. The ACLU points out serious concerns with the new rules:

  • The failure to provide the number of people that would constitute a parade could result in absurd and potentially unconstitutional outcomes. For example, two people who choose to march through a park could be considered a parade and be required to obtain a permit.
  • A city official might subjectively deny a parade permit application if it was determined that the parade or demonstration is “dangerous,” requires a high number of police officers, or otherwise places a burden on city resources.
  • The ordinance could prohibit the spontaneous gathering of individuals to meet and peaceably demonstrate in parks or other public places.

Link said, “While this new ordinance is an improvement over the previous one, the real tests of its constitutionality lie ahead, both in the legislation and in the process city hall establishes.”