Ohio Pro-Life Group Celebrates Victory in Lawsuit Over Free Speech Rights
by Steven Ertelt
September 9, 2008
Columbus, OH (LifeNews.com) — An Ohio pro-life group emerged victorious in a federal district court case over a lawsuit it filed to protect its free speech political rights. 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 but campaign finance laws prevented that.
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 sued to overturn the provision and Judge George C. Smith upheld the group’s free speech rights.
Director Mike Gonidakis told LifeNews.com that this ruling is good news for other groups that want to exercise their First Amendment rights as well.
"This is not just about Ohio Right to Life," he said. "This ruling affects every advocacy group in the state. Gagging everybody for thirty days prior to the election, when the public is just beginning to pay attention to the issues involved is depriving everyone of their First Amendment rights to free speech."
"Like any advocacy organization, we must be free to inform individuals about life issues, regardless of when an election is scheduled," he said.
Ohio Right to Life, represented by attorney Bill Todd from Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan, & Aronoff 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."
Ohio Right to Life’s challenges to the disclosure requirements were not addressed by the Supreme Court in the WRTL case
"Our mission is to promote and protect life in Ohio 365 days a year. We strongly believe that the American political system functions best when serious, issue-driven groups such as ours are free to participate in the robust debate of political issues that is, and should be the hallmark of our nation." Gonidakis said.
Ohio Right to Life filed suit in May against the Ohio Elections Commission and the Ohio Secretary of State to prevent them from enforcing the law. ORTL filed the suit in the U.S District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.
Ohio lawmakers included the ad ban in a campaign finance bill the legislature approved in December 2004.
Related web sites:
Ohio Right to Life – https://www.ohiolife.org
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