- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Restrictions on public demonstrations in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention are “trampling First Amendment rights” of the thousands of demonstrators expected to protest and support presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Groups looking to hold demonstrations in Cleveland say restrictions within the city’s 3.3-square-mile “event zone” are overly broad and that a delay in issuing parade and demonstration permits — some have been pending as long as four months — further curtails free speech.

“The restrictions on speech put in place by the city of Cleveland are arbitrary, unnecessary and unjustifiable,” said Christine Link, executive director of the ACLU of Ohio. “The current rules for demonstrations at the RNC are actively blocking groups from all sides of the political spectrum from participating in their government.”

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court, asks the court to require the city to reduce the size of the event zone and to immediately process the pending demonstration permit applications.

“Delays approving permits are already having a chilling effect on speech,” Ms. Link said. “The city is withholding information that organizers need to finalize plans so people can come out and be heard as the national spotlight focuses on Cleveland.”

Leaders of groups planning demonstrations detailed their complaints about the restrictions and the delay in issuing permits in declarations submitted with the lawsuit.

Citizens for Trump, which is planning a July 18 rally, has spent $10,000 on deposits for lodging for speakers and organizers, and is evaluating whether to pay more than $50,000 in additional deposits for other items — like security, audio visual services and portable toilets — before the city signs off on their permit application.

“Because I still do not yet know if Citizens for Trump’s permit will be approved, I have not been able to secure many crucial items and services that are needed for the rally,” group co-founder Timothy Selaty wrote in the declaration filed in court. “The City’s delay in approving our permit has severely damaged our group’s credibility. I am not able to provide any information to anyone about when our permit might be approved, and thus cannot make or publicize any final decisions to participants, to the media, to co-organizers, speakers, or vendors regarding the march or rally.”

The convention runs from July 18 through July 21, and is estimated to bring 50,000 visitors to Cleveland.

Groups expecting to organize demonstrations during the RNC convention have expressed concern that the city’s plans could put demonstrators at risk.

Two small parks will serve as demonstration areas, but demonstrators alternately will share a single parade route and a “speaker’s platform” with amplified sound that individuals can reserve for 30-minute increments — placing opposing groups in close proximity during focal points of their rallies.

The progressive group Organize Ohio also criticizes the permit process and takes issue with the limited space in which demonstrators will be allowed to host rallies and march.

“The City’s designated parade route will not allow us to convey our message,” Organize Ohio co-founder Lawrence Bresler wrote in a declaration.

He described the group’s planned activity as “a march to end poverty” and noted that the city’s designated parade route does not allow marchers to walk through neighborhoods known to have the greatest level of poverty.

Cleveland officials submitted a response asking for more time to address some of the complaints but also outlined opposition to the lawsuit.

“Many of the restrictions complained of in the complaint are a result of the Secret Service’s security plan,” wrote Barbara Langhenry, Cleveland’s director of law, noting that the Secret Service had not been named as a defendant in the suit.

She also pointed out that the ACLU waited three weeks after the city announced the security plan for the event.

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