Judge Protects Free Speech in Millennium Park
Updated: Feb 27, 2020
JUDGE PROTECTS FREE SPEECH IN MILLENNIUM PARK
Preliminary Injunction Granted Against Chicago Speech Restriction
CHICAGO, IL – Thursday, February 20, 2020 – Judge John Robert Blakey of the Northern District Federal Court granted an injunction barring various rules from halting visitors in Millennium Park from exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.
“Despite these good intentions, however, the City’s restrictions prohibit reasonable forms of expression in large areas of the Park,” Judge Blakey wrote in his opinion.
“We are thankful that speech is now protected in Millennium Park and look forward to preaching the Gospel there in the days to come,” plaintiff Gabriel Emerson stated.
“This is a ruling that benefits anyone who wishes to exercise their First Amendment rights in a traditional public forum, regardless of the political, religious, or ideological content of their message. We are thankful to God for this legal protection and our request to Mayor Lightfoot is to desist the City’s misguided efforts to prevent people from freely expressing and exchanging ideas in Millennium Park,” John Mauck, attorney for the student plaintiffs said.
During a hearing on November 8, 2019, City witness 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 behaviors such as taking a selfie, wearing a funny hat, running, or talking too loud all might violate the current rules according to the broad and untailored prohibition 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 present rules.
Both Stewart and City witness Ann Hickey, Deputy Commissioner of DCASE, admitted that they disagreed with the City’s own marketing materials that advertise Millennium Park as “Chicago’s Town Square.”
Despite only receiving one speech-related complaint out of roughly 20 million yearly visitors in Millennium Park, the City changed the Park rules in April of 2019 to effectively restrict free speech in most areas.
The firm of Mauck & Baker originally filed a complaint in federal court on September 18, 2019 on behalf of their clients, four Wheaton College students: Matt Swart, Jeremy Chong, Caeden Hood, and Gabriel Emerson. These young men were repeatedly prevented from sharing the Gospel in Millennium Park due to new rules that originally required a permit and sectioned the park into eleven imaginary rooms; speech being allowed in only one.
Shortly after filing, former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of his clients who were stopped from circulating referendum petitions to visitors in Millennium Park.
Not long after, the ACLU sent a cease and desist letter to DCASE Commissioner Mark Kelly after anti-Trump activists were denied their right to protest in Millennium Park.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys: John Mauck and Pat Quinn, and defense for the City: Andrew Mine, gave closing arguments to Judge Blakey on November 20, 2019.