ACLU of Ohio Sues Parma Heights Officials for Attempting to Silence Critics During Memorial Day Parade

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
August 26, 2003 12:00 am

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CLEVELAND – The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today filed a federal lawsuit against officials in Parma Heights who threatened to arrest residents who were distributing leaflets critical of the Mayor and stopped a city councilman and his daughter from wearing shirts supporting his candidacy during a Memorial Day parade.

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, the ACLU said.

“The city 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.

Whitaker noted that during the parade other groups were permitted to distribute flyers, some for commercial purposes: “The favoritism and the attempt to squelch a political message go right to the heart of what the First Amendment protects.”

The ACLU lawsuit was filed on behalf of three residents against Mayor Martin Zanotti, Safety Director Richard Ron and Police Captain C.J. Darnell.

During the parade, two people were threatened with arrest when they attempted to distribute leaflets critical of Mayor Zanotti and his plan to close a city recreation center, the ACLU said in legal papers. Another individual — 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. He and his young daughter were also told to remove shirts bearing his name. Mayor Zanotti and incumbent politicians were allowed to participate in the parade with apparel and car signs bearing their names.

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.

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