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ACLU Sues City to Allow Convention Hall Use by Louis Farrakhan

February 8, 1995

CLEVELAND (AP) _ The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the city over its refusal to allow Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to use the convention center for a men-only gathering.

The U.S. District Court suit was filed Tuesday against the city on behalf of Minister Roland Muhammad, head of Cleveland’s Nation of Islam Mosque No. 18. It asked for an injunction requiring the city to allow Farrakhan use of the center.

The city allowed the Billy Graham Crusade to use the Cleveland Convention Center on two occasions last year for single-gender meetings, the ACLU said.

``The city is not free to establish one set of rules for speech by Christian organizations and another set for rules for Islamic organizations,″ said Kevin O’Neill, legal director of the ACLU in Ohio.

O’Neill said the Nation of Islam had a 60-year tradition of holding separate meetings for men and women.

Heather Graham Oliver, chief assistant law director for the city, said women had been invited to a Graham crusade planning meeting and men to another session but the meetings were open to everyone.

She and Steven Terry, chief counsel for the city, declined specific comment on the lawsuit because they hadn’t seen it.

O’Neill said the case is ``not a women’s rights matter at all.″

``From the city’s own behavior, it didn’t express any gender discrimination concerns when approached by the Billy Graham Crusade,″ he said. `It expressed them only when approached by a controversial organization seeking a forum for a controversial speaker.″

City officials filed a suit Jan. 6 in state court, seeking a judgment declaring that the Nation of Islam’s First Amendment right to freedom of religion would not be violated if the group were denied access to the convention center because women were to be excluded. That action is pending.

``The city is asking for guidance in this matter,″ said Oliver. ``We can’t violate state law.″

The ACLU lawsuit was assigned to Judge George White. His office said no hearing had been scheduled.

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