A law firm specializing in defending religious liberty says Chicago authorities are suppressing free speech in the city’s Millennium Park.
Mauck & Baker reported a Wheaton College student was sharing the gospel in March near Cloud Gate (a large stainless steel sculpture commonly known as “The Bean”), when a park authority said the student’s actions were against park rules and the individual was forced to leave.
Following the incident, specific provisions were added to the Millennium Park Rules that Mauck & Baker says are unconstitutional for several reasons. The firm detailed its argument in a press release on mauckbaker.com:
1. The rules divide the park into “rooms” and restrict speeches and handing out written communication to one corner of the 25-acre park.
“One of the reasons public parks are so inviting is because they are open outdoor spaces where anyone is welcome, people can gather, and thoughts and ideas can be freely exchanged,” the law firm countered. “Parks differ from other public buildings in that they are NOT sectioned off to exclude anyone who wishes to speak or listen freely.”
2. The rules stipulate that displays, speeches, or demonstrations on park property must be approved by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and park management.
Mauck & Baker says, “In this rule the Park authorities have taken away the quintessential aspects that make speech ‘free’ by adding stipulations that unnecessarily burden the speakers. By acting as gatekeepers, they apply their own bias to decide who gets to be heard.”
3. The rules prohibit any unspecified conduct that “interferes with or disrupts another visitor’s peaceful enjoyment of a performance or amenity in the park.”
“Irritation or annoyance of some opinionated minority is unavoidable in public spaces and is never enough to prohibit someone from exercising their First Amendment rights,” said attorney John Mauck. “And given the size of Millennium Park, a few people speaking and handing out free literature with a 30-foot radius or moving radius disrupts very little. People can ignore the speaker, refuse the literature or walk away.”
The law firm has asked park officials to change the rules or remove wording that impedes free speech. If they’re unwilling, Mauck & Baker said, the firm will file a First Amendment rights claim in federal court.
-From Mauck & Baker