A Cincinnati-based alternative weekly sued local prosecutors, police and clergymen in federal district court Tuesday, saying their efforts to banish adult advertisements have violated the paper’s First Amendment rights.
The complaint alleges a "conspiracy" to violate CityBeat‘s First Amendment rights, seen in the public officials’ partnership with religious groups in protesting the ads.
‘"The inclusion of governmental officials," the suit says, "and in particular those who are responsible for enforcing and prosecuting criminal laws in the greater Cincinnati area, can have no other impact but to chill CityBeat’s free expression by forcing it to self-censor or face possible prosecution."
In June, the Citizens for Community Values (CCV) held a press conference in Cincinnati’s city hall and issued a letter condemning CityBeat’s advertisements, signed by various religious groups, county prosecutors, Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis and Cincinnati Police Chief Thomas Streicher.
CCV’s letter, addressed to CityBeat’s Editor and Co-Publisher John Fox, said, "The majority of ads in CityBeat’s adult classified section clearly appear to be outright or thinly veiled advertisements for prostitution or other sexual services, many of which are in violation of state criminal laws."
Fox found it particularly disturbing to see cops’ and prosecutors’ names on the letter.
"Taken together with law enforcement officials signing a letter that referenced local and federal police agencies and various criminal activity," Fox wrote in an editorial, accusations that CityBeat runs ads for prostitution "suddenly turned from a stunt to a threat. As in the top law enforcement officials in five local jurisdictions conspiring to hurt us and maybe even put us out of business."
CCV responded to the complaint with a press release on its Web site, calling the lawsuit "an effort to intimidate civic leaders."
CityBeat’s complaint names all 39 parties who signed CCV’s letter as defendants. It says the paper has included an adult advertising section for more than 10 years, and "none of the advertisements that run in the adult services section either explicitly or implicitly offer sexual activity."
CityBeat runs classified advertisements for "body rubs" and "adult jobs," which includes erotic modeling, escort services and "phone entertainers."