ACLU Supports Free Speech Rights of Groups Protesting Cleveland Indians Logo at Stadium

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
March 10, 2000 12:00 am

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CLEVELAND, OH — The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today joined prominent local attorney Niki Schwartz in a legal battle over the First Amendment rights of groups seeking to demonstrate against the use of the Chief Wahoo image and the Cleveland Indians name.

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court today on behalf of a broad coalition of religious, civil and American Indian groups led by the United Church of Christ, seeks to assert their rights to protest on the sidewalks and plazas near Jacobs Field in opposition to the use of the Chief Wahoo image and the Cleveland Indians name.

The ACLU contends that efforts to exclude protestors from these areas violates their First Amendment right to free speech, because the stadium and arena are tantamount to government entities.

“The ties to local government are so broad and so deep that Gateway is little more than an extension of the government,” said ACLU Associate Legal Director Gino Scarselli today. “The Gateway Complex may be private property on paper, but in reality it is a public entity, and its property should be considered public property for First Amendment purposes.”

The Gateway Complex, which is managed by the Gateway Economic Development Corporation of Greater Cleveland, consists of Jacobs Field, Gund Arena and the adjacent sidewalks, plazas and pedestrian malls. Since the site opened in April 1994, Gateway officials have maintained control over the public spaces near Jacobs Field, physically barring some protestors and having other arrested, all because they claim that the Gateway Complex is private property.

The ACLU said that the stadium, arena, and its adjacent malls were built with public funds, are managed by a corporation whose board is appointed by the Mayor of Cleveland and the Cuyahoga County Commissioners, and whose Executive Director is a full time employee of Cuyahoga County, on loan to Gateway.

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