, , , , ,

Federal Court: University of Cincinnati Speech Restrictions on Students Permanently Enjoined

Students supporting “right to work” amendment cannot be arrested for discussing amendment and gathering signatures on campus

Cincinnati, OH – A federal court today permanently enjoined the University of Cincinnati’s blanket prohibition on student political speech on campus as a violation the First Amendment. The ruling, made by Judge Black of the Cincinnati division of the Southern District of Ohio, paves the way for a likely overhaul of many campus speech policies throughout the state and nation.

The ruling also permits members of the student group Young Americans for Liberty (“YAL”) to advocate and collect signatures for the Ohio Workplace Freedom Amendment on campus.

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, which also drafted the Workplace Freedom Amendment, took up the students’ case and challenged UC’s policies after UC threatened to arrest student members of YAL if they attempted to gather signatures for the right-to-work cause on campus.

The lawsuit sought recognition that (1) the First Amendment applied to public university property, such as the University of Cincinnati; (2) signature-gathering for petition drives is a protected form of political speech; and (3) UC’s requirement that all UC students register up to 15 days ahead of time before engaging in any political speech on campus violates the First Amendment.

In his June 12 decision preliminarily enjoining UC policies, Judge Black emphasized “It is simply unfathomable that a UC student needs to give the University advance notice of an intent to gather signatures for a ballot initiative. There is no danger to public order arising out of students walking around campus with clipboards seeking signatures.”

In that decision, the Court further ordered UC to craft “more narrowly tailored regulations that regulate student expressive activities . . . only as are necessary to serve a compelling government interest.”

In response, newly crafted University of Cincinnati speech policies permit unfettered free political speech, including signature gathering, by students, without notice to the University, for groups smaller than 25, and regulates only groups of 5,000 or more.

Today’s final order permanently enjoins UC from returning to its old policies, or any variation thereof. The order, an across-the-board rebuke to UC’s policies, enjoins UC from:

  • “Requiring prior notification for the solicitation by students of signatures for petitions;”
  • “Prohibiting all solicitation by students of signatures for petitions in any designated public forum, including the Free Speech Area, the outdoor spaces described in the MainStreet Event Guide, and campus sidewalks;”
  • “Requiring that all student ‘demonstrations, picketing, or rallies’ occur only in the Free Speech Area;”
  • “Requiring 5 to 15 days prior notification for any and all student ‘demonstrations, picketing, or rallies’ without differentiations;”
  • “Imposing or enforcing any policy restricting student speech in any designated public forum, including the Free Speech Area, the outdoors spaces described in the MainStreet Event Guide, and campus sidewalks, that is not individually and narrowly tailored to serve a compelling university interest.

“We are pleased that the federal court has resolved this matter in favor of free speech, and against government control of young minds. UC is an arm of the state that receives state and federal tax dollars since its inception, all in the name of ‘public education,’” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

“It was unwise, and ultimately unconstitutional, for UC to advance public education by shielding its students from actual education on public policy issues that affect all Ohioans. Fortunately, the First Amendment allows us to protect the education of UC students from their educators; it further protects the right of students to calmly address facts and arguments that UC would rather suppress, and to do so without prior permission.”

The 1851 Center and UC students endured four months of procedural tactics, harassing depositions, and frivolous daily letters by UC’s attorneys, after Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine authorized $200,000 in state funds to the private law firm of Crabbe Brown, a campaign contributor of Mr. DeWine’s, to defend the clearly unconstitutional University of Cincinnati policies. The 1851 Center represents clients at no cost.

Multiple Ohio colleges and universities maintain speech restrictions similar in kind, although not as extensive, as those of the University of Cincinnati – – the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education recently named UC’s speech policies the worst in the nation.

The Court’s preliminary and permanent injunction orders can be viewed HERE.

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is a non-profit, non-partisan legal center dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of Ohioans from government abuse. The 1851 Center litigates constitutional issues related to property rights, voting rights, regulation, taxation, and search and seizures.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE; thefire.org) is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities.

Young Americans for Liberty is a national student membership organization dedicated to recruiting, training, educating, and mobilizing students on the ideals of liberty and the Constitution.

August 26, 2012: The News Record: Court reverses UC free speech policy

August 23, 2012: Huffington Post: District Court: Campuses Can’t Quarantine Free Speech

August 23, 2012: Columbus Dispatch: Judge blocks university’s restrictions on speech

August 23, 2012: Cincinnati.com: Judge bans UC’s free speech policy

August 23, 2012: Daily Caller: U. of Cincinnati loses free speech lawsuit — is another Ohio college next?

August 23, 2012: Ohio Liberty Coalition: Federal court stops University of Cincinnati from restricting students’ free speech, president unexpectedly resigns

, , , , , ,

Federal Court Enjoins Shaker Heights from Blocking Message of Tax-Increase Opponents

Cleveland, OH – A federal court enjoined the City of Shaker Heights from further harassment of Shaker Heights residents city officials silenced through threat of a frivolous trademark lawsuit. The threat had come in retaliation for the citizens’ opposition to the City of Shaker Heights’ attempt to increase income taxes on residents through an August 7 vote.

The Northern District of Ohio Judge Christopher Boyko ordered that the City “shall take no action which interferes in any way with Plaintiffs’ use of the Shaker Heights Taxpayers Union Logo. . .

This Order comes in response to legal action filed on behalf of the Shaker Heights Taxpayers Union (“SHTU”). This legal action included a demand for an immediate injunction prohibiting city officials from engaging in any further threats, intimidation, or retaliation in response to the taxpayers’ legitimate exercise of their constitutional rights

Shaker Heights resident Mark Zetzer formed the SHTU to advocate against the City’s placement of a personal income tax increase on the August 7 ballot, arguing that Shaker Heights taxes were already the highest in the state. In addition Mr. Zetzer designed for the group a logo that parodies the City of Shaker Heights logo by replacing the City logo’s leaves with dollar signs, to represent City officials’ use of taxation as a first-resort (see the logo below).

Even though federal courts have repeatedly confirmed that the First Amendment trumps trademark law in the field of political speech, just as Mr. Zetzer’s message was beginning to gain traction, the City of Shaker Heights sent Mr. Zetzer a “Demand to Cease and Desist,” threatening that “[f]ailure to stop [use of the SHTU logo] will result in the City taking legal action to protect its trademark, including a request for an award of damages.”

In response, SHTU had been forced to stop using the logo in its campaign.

“This case featured an appalling attempt by city officials to silence anyone who stands in the way of their access to more of Shaker Heights residents’ earnings,” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center. “The Court’s Order preserves the rights of Ohioans to effectively criticize their local governments, particularly as they push for more taxes, and further acknowledges that political speech parodying one’s government cannot be abridged.”

Added Thompson, “Conducting frivolous legal activity on city time is not just unethical – – it’s also a waste of public funds. If the City simply abstained from paying government employees to engage in activities such as instituting official-appearing legal threats to silence opposing viewpoints in the heat of an election, there would likely be no need to impose additional taxes on Shaker Heights residents.”

July 27, 2012: Cleveland.com: Judge says Shaker Heights can’t stop anti-tax group’s use of logo

 

The 1851 Center’s Complaint can be viewed here.

The Motion for a Preliminary Injunction is available here.

, , ,

Federal Court: University of Cincinnati Speech Restrictions on Students Unconstitutional

Students supporting “right to work” amendment cannot be arrested for discussing amendment and gathering signatures on campus

Cincinnati, OH – A federal court today ruled that the University of Cincinnati’s blanket prohibition on student political speech on campus violates the First Amendment. The ruling, made by Judge Black of the Cincinnati division of the Southern District of Ohio, paves the way for members of the student group Young Americans for Liberty (“YAL”) to advocate and collect signatures for the Ohio Workplace Freedom Amendment on campus.

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, which also drafted the Workplace Freedom Amendment, took up the students’ case and challenged UC’s policies after UC threatened to arrest student members of YAL if they attempted to gather signatures for the right-to-work cause on campus.

The lawsuit sought recognition that (1) the First Amendment applied to public university property, such as the University of Cincinnati; (2) signature-gathering for petition drives is a protected form of political speech; and (3) UC’s requirement that all UC students register up to 15 days ahead of time before engaging in any political speech on campus violates the First Amendment.

In his decision, Judge Black emphasized “It is simply unfathomable that a UC student needs to give the University advance notice of an intent to gather signatures for a ballot initiative. There is no danger to public order arising out of students walking around campus with clipboards seeking signatures.” The order, an across-the-board rebuke to UC’s policies, enjoins UC from:

  • “Requiring prior notification for the solicitation by students of signatures for petitions;”
  • “Prohibiting all solicitation by students of signatures for petitions in any designated public forum, including the Free Speech Area, the outdoor spaces described in the MainStreet Event Guide, and campus sidewalks;”
  • “Requiring that all student ‘demonstrations, picketing, or rallies’ occur only in the Free Speech Area;”
  • “Requiring 5 to 15 days prior notification for any and all student ‘demonstrations, picketing, or rallies’ without differentiations;”
  • “Imposing or enforcing any policy restricting student speech in any designated public forum, including the Free Speech Area, the outdoors spaces described in the MainStreet Event Guide, and campus sidewalks, that is not individually and narrowly tailored to serve a compelling university interest.

The Court further ordered UC to craft “more narrowly tailored regulations that regulate student expressive activities . . . only as are necessary to serve a compelling government interest.” “UC is an arm of the state that has chased and received state and federal tax dollars since its inception, all in the name of ‘public education,'” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

“UC mistakenly seeks to advance its mission of public education by shielding its students from actual education on public policy issues that affect all Ohioans. Fortunately, the First Amendment allows us to protect the education of UC students from their educators; it further protects the right of students to calmly address facts and arguments that UC would rather suppress, and to do so without prior permission.”

The 1851 Center and UC students endured four months of procedural tactics, harassing depositions, and frivolous daily letters by UC’s attorneys, after Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine authorized $200,000 in state funds to the private law firm of Crabbe Brown, a campaign contributor of Mr. DeWine’s, to defend the clearly unconstitutional University of Cincinnati policies. The 1851 Center represents clients at no cost.

Multiple Ohio colleges and universities maintain speech restrictions similar in kind, although not as extensive, as those of the University of Cincinnati – – the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education recently named UC’s speech policies the worst in the nation. However, these policies are suspect in light of the Court’s clear ruling.

June 12, 2012: Associated Press: Judge: Cincinnati school violated students’ rights

June 12, 2012: Cincinnati.com: Judge rejects UC protest policy; Ruling could set new standard for free speech on campus

June 12, 2012: F.I.R.E.: Federal Court: University of Cincinnati Free Speech Zone Violates First Amendment, ‘Cannot Stand’

June 13, 2012: Fox 19: Student political group wins injunction against U.C. speech restrictions

Read the Young Americans for Liberty v. UC, Complaint here.

Read the Young Americans for Liberty v. UC, Motion for Temporary Restraining Order here.

Read the Young Americans for Liberty v. UC, Motion for Partial Summary Judgment here.

Read the court’s decision here.

, , , , ,

High Court Rebukes Attack on Cincinnati Charter Schools

CPS Deed Restrictions Against Charter and Private Schools Illegal, Cincinnati Charter Schools to Remain Open

Columbus – Cincinnati Public Schools’ (CPS) policy of prohibiting the sale of unused available public school buildings to charter schools and private schools is unlawful and must end, ruled the Supreme Court of Ohio. This decision rebuffs CPS efforts to shut down numerous successful charters schools in Cincinnati, and is a considerable victory for charter and private school operators throughout the state.

1851 Center for Constitutional Law represented Theodore Roosevelt Community School, a Cincinnati charter school CPS had sued to shut down. Theodore Roosevelt School had purchased an unused school building located in the Fairmount neighborhood, where all CPS schools are in academic emergency, and 80 percent of families are of minority status, and live in poverty. The school opened in August of 2010, and currently serves nearly 300 students and employs 45 staff members.

CPS attempted to enforce a deed restriction prohibiting the use of school buildings previously owned by CPS for use by a charter or private school. The 1851 Center asserted such restrictions are void by Ohio’s public policy in favor of school choice, and cheat taxpayers of sales revenue from the buildings.

The Court’s decision, authored by Justice Lanzinger, acknowledged held “. . . the inclusion of a deed restriction preventing the use of property for school purposes in the contract for sale of an unused school building is unenforceable as against public policy.” The Court added, “[t]he restriction, on its face, prevents the free use of property for education purposes . . . Furthermore, the restriction is not neutral; it seeks to thwart competition by providing that the restriction applies to all buyers except CPS itself.”

“The Court’s decision upholds a landmark ruling in favor of school choice in Ohio, and against adversarial school districts who attempt to block alternative schools’ right to exist,” said 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson.

“Deed restrictions like the one struck down in this case were devised simply to stop new charter and private schools from opening in Cincinnati, so that CPS could retain students and protect its state funds. In its brief, CPS compares itself to a ‘gas station’ or ‘hotel’ that has a right to use hardball tactics against its competition. It seems to have forgotten that it’s a public school that exists to educate children, rather than amass revenue.”

The Court’s decision suggested promise for the 1851 Center’s overarching approach of using the doctrine “public policy” — the requirement that contract terms are subject to the public interest — to nullify government contract terms that attack school choice and reward special interests. While the Court acknowledged that the doctrine is narrow, it affirms 1851’s position that special scrutiny should apply to government contracts: “in this case, however, involving a contract between a private party and a political subdivision, there is a compelling reason to support application of the doctrine [of public policy].”

This additional ruling exposing CPS to the loss of millions of dollars in funding from the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC), which requires that school districts follow all state rules related to charter schools. The fate of this funding is still in dispute, in a second case brought by the 1851 Center and the Ohio Coalition for Quality Education, still pending before Judge Ruehlman.

June 6, 2012: Cincinnati.com: Ohio court: CPS unfair to charters

All briefs in the case can be viewed here.

Oral Arguments from the case can be viewed here.