Tea Party Wins Fight to Mark Constitution Day in Public Square

A federal judge on Wednesday overruled a small Ohio town that had blocked a local Tea Party group from holding a Constitution Day rally in the town's public square because it was deemed too political.

Judge Donald C. Nugent issued a temporary injunction against Andover Township until the merits of the case can be decided. That clears the way for the Andover Tea Party to commemorate Constitution Day in the town square on Friday.

The town trustees who tried to block the rally "need to learn the Constitution,"  Peg Slingluff, a local Tea Party organizer, told FoxNews.com.

"It's very ironic that an effort to celebrate the Constitution results in a violation of the Constitution," attorney Curt Hartman, part of the legal team representing the group, added.

The three trustees initially agreed in May to allow the activists to hold their rally when they thought the fledging group was going to have a picnic, serving tea and cookies, Slingluff said. Then they rescinded the offer in July when they learned that the group was affiliated with the conservative grassroots movement that has taken the nation by storm in the last year and a half.

"Who's been living under a rock for the last 18 months that they don't know what the Tea Party is," said attorney Christopher Finney, another member of the group's legal team.

The trustees denied the group access to the park based on a township resolution that allows officials to determine public space usage "on a case by case basis" and to ban speech that they deem too "political."

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a nonpartisan law center in the state, filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing the group's First Amendment rights were violated.

"The First Amendment clearly protects the right to gather on the public square, speak out in support of limited constitutional government, and critique the current state of affairs," 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson said. "The townships' self-aggrandizing authority to pick and choose who may speak, based upon whether they approve of the speaker's message, is entirely unconstitutional."

Attorneys for the group said the park is used for public events that often have far more political overtones.

Neither the trustees nor their attorneys could be reached for comment.

Finney said he's not sure whether the trustees tried to block the event because it was "conservative or it was political, period."

The attorneys said the trustees will meet next week to eliminate the resolution.

"What makes this so great is this is not just a local issue in Andover," Slingluff said. "It's a national issue."