Citizens group sues state agency over leafleting rules

Wednesday, July 15, 1998

Ohio Citizen Action, a self-described nonprofit corporation “formed for the purpose of education and influencing legislation on behalf of the public interest,” filed a class action lawsuit last Friday against the Ohio Building Authority.

Group members allege that at various times last year they were “threatened with arrest if they did not desist” from leafleting at One Government Center plaza. The Toledo building houses the executive and legislative branches of Lucas County and various other city, county and state offices.

According to Ohio Citizens Action v. Ohio Building Authority, group members were “threatened with arrest” if they did not stop handing out leaflets. They contend that their activities were “peaceful and did not impair in any way the movement of people” in One Government Center.

The complaint cites violations of two provisions of the state constitution, including:

  • Every citizen may freely speak, write, and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of the right; and no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press. …
  • The people have the right to assemble together, in a peaceable manner, to consult for their common good; to instruct their representatives; and to petition the general assembly for the redress of grievances.

Ohio Building Authority rules require those who distribute literature at the government building to provide 48-hour advance notice and a “list of the names of the persons or alternates who wish access to the premises.”

Ohio Citizen Action contends that the rules restricting the area where leafleting is permitted “are unduly restrictive and unnecessary; the requirement of advance notice and listing the names of the persons wishing access to the premises are improper and a violation of the right to privacy and an impediment to the need for prompt action and appropriate circumstances where time will not permit the 48 hour advance notice requirement.”

“Among our most cherished rights are the rights to peacefully assemble and make our opinion known. Unnecessary restrictions on these activities cannot be tolerated,” said Harland Britz, cooperating attorney and general counsel of the northwest chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. “Using Ohio Building Authority rules, our Founding Fathers would have been arrested when distributing The Federalist Papers,” he said.

Mark Haberman, the authority's assistant director, refused comment, saying that “we have not been served with the lawsuit yet.”