Local political organization defends right to rally

By Kimberly Holmes – bio | email

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, or COAST, is taking the city of Cincinnati to court.

Dozens of groups can and do protest outside City Hall, but to voice your opinion inside the doors takes permission from the City Manager. And that's why COAST said they're defending their right to do just that in front of a federal judge on Tuesday.

"This case is about equal access to the halls of City Hall," said COAST legal counsel Chris Finney.

Finney argues Cincinnati picks and chooses who can rally inside the four walls of its City Hall.

"What we're saying is they cannot allow a pro-government, big-tax message without allowing also a limited government message," Finney said.

The issue goes back nearly two years. Back in February 2008, an education organization held a rally inside City Hall encouraging voters to support a massive tax increase for Cincinnati Public Schools. About a month later, COAST said they asked to rally in the same location promoting a ban on red light cameras. Finney said COAST's request was denied.

"They allow access to the things that they want inside the walls of City Hall," Finney said. "But they do not allow it for things they don't, and that kind of discriminatory access is not permitted under the U.S. Constitution."

And the Federal District Court agreed.

Last year, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against the city policy finding it violated the First and Fourteenth amendments. The city appealed right away, and only now has the case made it to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. That's one step below the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Monday, the City Manager's office sent this statement to FOX 19: "We believe that anyone should be able to use the front steps of city hall as a public forum. We look forward to the 6th Circuit upholding our position regarding the use of the city hall building."

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled to begin on Tuesday at 9 a.m.

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