Written by Staff Reports
Proponents of free speech have lost a round in Cleveland.
U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen O'Malley has upheld the right of the downtown sports complex to eject demonstrators from the area in front of Jacobs Field, the baseball stadium.
A coalition of religious, civil and American Indian groups had sought the right on Opening Day to pass out literature protesting Cleveland's professional baseball team's use of the name "Indians" and mascot "Chief Wahoo." The UCC-led coalition filed the suit, assisted by the American Civil Liberties Union.
"The rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association give dignity to every person," said UCC President the Rev. John H. Thomas at a press conference announcing the suit. "For far too long, the voice of some has been ignored and distorted."
The group sought the right to protest on the sidewalks and plazas of the Gateway Sports Complex near Jacobs Field. Since the complex opened in 1994, Gateway officials have maintained control over the spaces near Jacobs Field, claiming the complex is private property.
Since public funds built the Gateway Complex, the coalition alleged that the sidewalks and malls were created by the city and county government for public use and, therefore, a public forum.
In summary, Judge O'Malley concluded that Gateway's policy "prohibiting demonstration in common areas on game days: 1) reasonably serves to preserve Gateway for its intended purposes; and 2) is not based on hostility to the message of any speaker."
The judge had expedited her decision to apply to Opening Day on April 14. The coalition now has to decide whether to pursue the suit for permanent free speech rights.