Challenging Cleveland’s Free Speech Zone

Bennett L. Gershman writes for the Huffington Post about the ongoing controversy over Cleveland, Ohio’s imposition of a free-speech zone in advance of the upcoming Republican National Convention. Cleveland city regulators have created a 3.5-square mile area dubbed the “Event Zone,” and are restricting parades, demonstrations, and speech-making anywhere in the zone.

The regulations require anyone wishing to exercise expressive rights within the zone to acquire a permit, which Gershman points out is a generally unconstitutional form of censorship known as “prior restraint.” He also argues that even in situations where a city government may have a compelling interest in maintaining public safety and trying to combat traffic congestion, it is still essential for that government to respect the First Amendment rights of its citizens by narrowly tailoring its regulation to allow the exercise of broad speech rights.

Gershman does note that the ACLU has successfully challenged the Cleveland speech zone on First Amendment grounds, resulting in a federal district judge ordering the city to modify its regulations. As of yet, however, these particular modifications have not been revealed, leaving the public unclear as to what limitations may still be placed on speech around the convention.

Restrictions on speech like those causing controversy in Cleveland can be dangerous to free speech because they stifle the ability of protestors to peaceably assemble, and they further contribute to, and indeed officially sanction, a culture of coercive intolerance towards those who disagree with prevailing attitudes or whose ideas are considered particularly troubling.

More Blog Posts

05-20-2020 01:20pm

StoryCorps Connect During COVID-19: Finding a New Way to Share America’s Stories

StoryCorps pivots to digital to keep building connections between people during the pandemic.

Read more

05-19-2020 05:39pm

Free speech provides comfort during COVID-19 pandemic

Trying circumstances can also present opportunities for people to come together. When people feel as if they face a common challenge, differences and divisions begin to blur. That’s cause for optimism.

Read more

05-14-2020 11:20am

Five steps for public officials to protect public health, regain public trust, and ensure civil liberties during COVID-19 crisis

Americans and their public officials grapple with the dynamic while working to protect public health and maintain the public confidence necessary for successful adoptions of temporary measures and ultimately restoration of their full civil liberties. Charles Koch Institute Senior Fellow Casey Mattox offers advice on the subject.

Read more

Sign up for updates