What can Christian evangelists, petition passers, and Trump protesters all get behind?
The answer would be free speech, as yet another group has now objected to the City of Chicago’s rules in Millennium Park where officials continue to violate this fundamental right. The City is now fending off legal action from three different groups whose rights have been infringed:
1. On September 18, the firm of Mauck & Baker filed a complaint in federal court on behalf of their clients, four Wheaton College students, who were repeatedly prevented from sharing the Gospel in Millennium Park due to new rules that required a permit and sectioned the park into eleven imaginary rooms; speech being allowed in only one.
“The City of Chicago has decided to make up out of thin air a bunch of rules dividing Millennium Park into eleven ‘rooms.’ These ‘rooms’ are then off limits, except one out of the eleven, are people allowed to give speeches and hand out literature,” attorney John Mauck explained. “It’s an attempt to say this is an indoor building where you can’t come and talk freely because now we’ve called them ‘rooms.’ But that doesn’t make sense. It’s open air, it’s an open park, and that’s what we’ll be arguing.”
2. Shortly after filing, former governor Pat Quinn heard about the lawsuit, which related to a similar incident he had with his clients who were also thrown out of the park for simply circulating petitions in the Park.
“We intervened because the current Millennium Park rules severely restrict First Amendment speech, including the ability of my clients to circulate initiative petitions for signatures to put referendums on the Chicago ballot,” Quinn said. “We look forward to working with Mauck & Baker in their representation of the First Amendment rights of the Wheaton College student evangelists.”
Most recently, the ACLU
sent a cease and desist letter to Mark Kelly, Commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, after anti-Trump activists in Millennium Park were denied their right to protest, an important aspect of the First Amendment. The letter claimed that although protesters were located in the one “room” where free speech is supposedly permitted, the guards still restricted them from exercising their rights.
“…Park security staff violated the First Amendment when they told protesters not to hold signs or banners or to distribute leaflets, and if the Rules permitted or required them to do so, the Rules are unconstitutional,” the letter stated.
A hearing which occurred on both Thursday, November 7 and Friday, November 8 yielded some interesting perspectives from the City’s witness testimonies:
Scott Stewart, Executive Director of Millennium Park Foundation, an organization that oversees happenings in Millennium Park in partnership with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), agreed that visitor behavior such as taking a selfie, wearing a funny hat, running, or talking too loud all might violate the current rules according to their broad and untailored definition of “disruptive conduct.”
As for the policy against the “passing out of written communications,” Stewart also concurred that even handing a book to a friend could be against the rules as presently defined.
Ann Hickey, Deputy Commissioner of DCASE, admitted that the rules are not listed anywhere within Millennium Park and are expected to be subjectively interpreted by security guards themselves. She also could not specifically define what makes a speech a speech, and declined to answer hypotheticals about what kind of speech would be allowed in the Park.
One of the most ironic facts that surfaced during the hearing was that both of the City’s witnesses are at odds with Chicago’s own marketing materials that advertise Millennium Park as “Chicago’s Town Square.”
Our client Jeremy Chong also testified and proclaimed the gospel even while being questioned by opposing counsel. Local radio host and petitioner Doris Davenport gave her testimony as well.