Friday, June 18, 2004

Judge defines 'wooden stick'

War protester can hold sign, for now

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Cincinnati law governing picketers' behavior on Fountain Square forbids anyone to use a sign held with a stick.

A U.S. District Court judge temporarily lifted the ban Thursday while the city and a local man battle about whether the law violates a person's right to free speech.

But Judge Sandra S. Beckwith was quick to add: Any stick used has to meet certain criteria.

It must be wood. It cannot be more than 2 inches wide. It cannot be more than a quarter of an inch thick. It cannot be more than three quarters of an inch in diameter. It must be blunt on both ends.

Jim Albers, 52, of Northside, said the higher he holds his sign, the more people see his message at the anti-war rallies he attends.

"There's only a certain amount of time you can physically hold a sign up over your head without fatigue in the shoulders," Albers said. "It's just common sense - put it on a stick."

The case stems from a May 11 lawsuit in which Albers argues the stick ban violated his civil rights.

Albers was cited for violating the city law March 20 and again on May 18 while at anti-war rallies on the square. His sign - 14 inches by 22 inches, attached to a bamboo stick 36 inches long - said, "No blood for oil."

Cincinnati police officers said the sign was a violation of city law and cited Albers.

The law was written with the idea that sticks could be used as weapons. Exempt are canes, crutches or any similar device used by people with visual or physical impairments.

Albers is expected to answer the citations in Hamilton County Municipal Court on July 30.

He's not aware of any upcoming anti-war rallies, but said if there is one, he is ready.

"My bamboo stick easily fits within this range," Albers said.


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