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On The Front Lines

Institute Attorneys Defend Pro-Life Organization's Free Speech Right to Advertise in Public Form

Judge Issues Permanent Restraining Order Against City of Port Clinton, Forbidding Further Discrimination

--Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have secured a victory in U.S. District Court on behalf of Heartbeat of Ottawa County, a nonprofit pro-life organization in Port Clinton, Ohio. Citing a city ordinance that prohibited "political or religious" expression, Port Clinton city officials prohibited Heartbeat from displaying a banner advertising its annual "Walk for Life" in the same location where other nonprofits were allowed to advertise. District Judge James G. Carr called the city's restriction a violation of Heartbeat's First Amendment right and issued a permanent restraining order against the city, forbidding it from discriminating against the organization.

The city of Port Clinton allows private groups to place advertising banners across its main street, including the local theater troupe, which was permitted to advertise such plays as "Nunsense" and "Jesus Christ Superstar." Rutherford Institute attorneys filed suit in federal court in Toledo on behalf of Heartbeat of Ottawa County, arguing the banner's speech was unlawfully targeted as unpopular. Institute attorneys further pointed out that restrictions on the basis of "religious" content of speech violate the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. In his ruling, Judge Carr agreed with both arguments, stating, "Through a loose application of the terms 'religious' and 'political,' [Port Clinton] could freely deny access to a wide variety of organizations...the city's restrictions on Heartbeat's access to the forum at issue were neither reasonable nor viewpoint neutral, and violated the First Amendment."

"Virtually no First Amendment principle is better established in law than that government officials cannot censor views because they feel they may be unpopular," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "It is disappointing that it took a federal lawsuit to teach a basic civics lesson to a small town in America's heartland."

The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.

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