Tea Party Sues to Ensure Equal Access to School Facilities
Press Release: Mansfield, OH (April 6, 2011) – In a lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court, the Mansfield North Central Ohio Tea Party Association claims that the Mansfield Board of Education and its superintendent violated the federal civil rights of the tea party and its members when they allowed opposition to a proposed speaker dictate a decision to deny the Tea Party the use of the high school auditorium.
Mansfield, OH (April 6, 2011) – In a lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court, the Mansfield North Central Ohio Tea Party Association claims that the Mansfield Board of Education and its superintendent violated the federal civil rights of the tea party and its members when they allowed opposition to a proposed speaker dictate a decision to deny the Tea Party the use of the high school auditorium.
Last Monday, on March 28, the Mansfield North Central Ohio Tea Party Association was scheduled to host a seminar by Usama Dakdok entitled “Freedom or Surrender” at the auditorium of the Mansfield Senior High School. Despite the fact that the auditorium is regularly made available to private organizations and the Tea Party had reserved the auditorium weeks in advance, on the morning of the scheduled event, Mansfield School Superintendent Dan Freund withdrew the previously granted permission to utilize the auditorium.
The decision by Superintendent Freund to deny the Tea Party the use of the auditorium came about only after vocal opposition to the seminar by Mr. Dakdok was spearheaded by the Cleveland Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Mansfield Chapter of the NAACP and other organizations.
“We believe that it is readily apparent and that the evidence will only further confirm that the decision of Superintendent Freund to cancel the Tea Party’s event was based solely upon and in reaction to the efforts of CAIR and other organizations to stifle Mr. Dakdok from making his presentation,” stated Curt Hartman, a Cincinnati-area attorney who is representing the Tea Party in the federal lawsuit. Mr. Hartman continued, “The Supreme Court has made clear that speech cannot be punished or banned simply because it might offend a hostile mob. To allow a heckler’s veto to rule the day, as Superintendent Freund apparently did, is repugnant to the First Amendment.” A heckler's veto is an impermissible content-based restriction on speech where the speech is prohibited due to an anticipated disorderly or violent reaction of the audience.
“As an organization, we recognize and appreciate that an informed citizenry is key to our representative democracy,” stated Bonnie Oleksa, founder of the Mansfield North Central Ohio Tea Party Association. “As a responsible and involved citizenry, we should be striving and promoting free and open debate, including critically examining alternative or different points of view. If one disagrees with another person’s position on a topic, the remedy is not to stifle those points of view with which we disagree, but, rather, to promote and encourage more speech.”
Superintendent Fruend announced his decision at a press conference held at the board of education’s office on March 28. This press conference was followed immediately by another press conference also at the board’s office, this time with CAIR, the local chapter of the NAACP and other groups participating. As Mr. Hartman noted, “The irony (or, perhaps, hypocrisy) of this should not be lost. At the same time that the school district and Superintendent Freud were providing a forum for CAIR and the NAACP to engage in First Amendment-protected speech criticizing the Tea Party, Mr. Dakdok, and the anticipated content of the seminar by Mr. Dakdok, the School District was refusing to provide a forum for the Tea Party and Mr. Dakdok to engage in their own speech-related activities protected by the First Amendment.”
The federal lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Cleveland Division, case no. 1:11-cv-677, and is styled Mansfield North Central Ohio Tea Party v. Board of Education of the Mansfield City School District. The case has been assigned to Judge Patricia Gaughan. For more information, contact, Curt Hartman, Esq., (513) 752-8800.