Free Speech Must Be Free, Says ACLU

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
May 7, 2010 12:00 am

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Charging Residents for Right to Protest and Changing Venue at Last Minute Violates First Amendment Rights


CAMPBELL, OH – The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent a letter today to Mark J. Kolmacic, law director for the city of Campbell, expressing deep concern over reports that the city charged local residents a fee of $480 in order to peacefully protest on public property. The rally took place on April 17, 2010 and was organized by the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapter at Youngstown State University. The rally was in response to a local ordinance that restricts the sale of firearms.

ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James L. Hardiman said, “Officials charging residents in order to have a peaceful protest is tantamount to a tax on free speech. If residents of Campbell have to pay $500 every time they want to rally, only the wealthiest people would be able to exercise their constitutional right to free speech. The unfettered ability to express one’s beliefs is fundamental for all, not just those who can afford it.”

City officials originally told the rally organizers that there would be no charge, then said they would have to pay $2000 towards police payroll, and finally reduced the cost to $480. Under protest, YAL, along with Ohioans for Concealed Carry paid the fee. In news reports, city officials have claimed that they included a charge because of the nature of the group that was rallying.

According to city ordinances, there is no policy that allows officials to charge residents a fee for protesting or requires them to pay for police protection. The ACLU asked city officials in its letter to return the fee to YAL.

In addition to the fee, the ACLU also questioned the actions of city officials who changed the location of the protest several times with less than 24 hours notice. Originally, the rally was to take place at city hall, but was changed to a pavilion at a local park, and then moved to another pavilion as the event was supposed to begin.

“The city made it as difficult as possible for these activists to exercise their First Amendment rights, simply because of their political beliefs,” concluded Hardiman. “If we charged groups to protest who may be deemed controversial, it could silence countless voices on important issues in our communities. No matter what one is speaking out on, we should all have the same ability to express our views.”

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