Ohio Pro-Life Group Files Lawsuit to Protect Free Speech Political Rights

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 21, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Ohio Pro-Life Group Files Lawsuit to Protect Free Speech Political Rights

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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
May 21
, 2008

Columbus, OH (LifeNews.com) — A leading pro-life group in Ohio has filed a lawsuit to protect its free speech political rights when it comes to the organization’s ability to engage in issue advocacy. During the critical days before the November general election, the Ohio Right to Life Society wants to be able to speak out on pro-life legislation.

Ohio Right to Life officials tell LifeNews.com that a ruling in its favor would free advocacy groups of all ideologies from government restriction that inhibits free speech rights prior to election day.

Specifically, the group has a problem with a state law that bars citizen organizations from paying for ads that mention the name of a political candidate within 30 days of an election.

The ads are prohibited even if they don’t advocate the defeat or election of a candidate and simply discuss the elected officials voting record on issues like abortion or bioethics.

"Ohio Right to Life is presently not permitted to advocate for an issue when voters are most engaged – 30 days before an election," executive director Mike Gonidakis told LifeNews.com.

"Such a speech blackout period is entirely contrary to the First Amendment and harms grassroots organizations of all ideologies," he said.

Ohio lawmakers included the ad ban in a campaign finance bill the legislature approved in December 2004.

Represented by the law firm Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff and the Center for Competitive Politics, ORTL argued in court filings that the Ohio state law barring it from running advertisements mentioning candidates’ names close to an election is impermissible in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last summer in Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life.

In that case, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that political speech can only be regulated if the advertisement contains "express advocacy" or "is susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate."

"Our mission is to promote life. We want the right to talk about life issues at anytime – regardless of when an election is scheduled," Gonidakis explained.

"The Supreme Court has recognized these rights at the federal level. We believe it is time for the Ohio Elections Commission to recognize our right to free speech," he added.

ORTL filed the suit in the U.S District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The Ohio Elections Commission and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner are named as defendants.

Related web sites:
Ohio Right to Life – https://www.ohiolife.org