* Press release…
In a win for the First Amendment right to circulate petitions, a federal judge has struck down the City of Chicago’s restrictive rules that did not allow First Amendment activities in Millennium Park, including circulating referendum petitions and outdoor evangelizing. The case stemmed in part from petition passers being harassed by security while collecting signatures for a referendum to term limit the Mayor of Chicago between 2016 and 2018.
Judge John Robert Blakey of the Northern District of Illinois found that Millennium Park’s rules unconstitutionally limit the free-speech rights of petition passers and those wishing to evangelize and distribute religious literature. The Court further found that the rules were unconstitutionally vague and were being enforced arbitrarily and “in a discriminatory manner,” including based on the identity of the speaker.
In his opinion, Judge Blakey stated that if the City of Chicago’s arguments in favor of the rules were to stand, “any park with a statue could lose its First Amendment protections.” The judge wrote, “The law precludes this absurd result.”
Attorneys Pat Quinn, former Governor of Illinois, and Ed Mullen represented petition passers Elizabeth Norden, Tyler Brumfield, Doris Davenport, and William Morgan in the case of Swart et al v. City of Chicago. They joined students from Wheaton College, represented by the firm Mauck & Baker, who were told they could not evangelize and hand out religious literature in Millennium Park.
Norden, Brumfield, Davenport, and Morgan testified that they were harassed and intimidated by Millennium Park personnel on the Great Lawn of the park, asked to leave the park, and threatened with arrest while circulating petitions for a term limit referendum on Chicago’s mayor.
The ruling is here…
This Court’s analysis of the other preliminary injunction factors requires little discussion. In First Amendment cases, the likelihood of success is dispositive because the loss of First Amendment freedoms—even for minimal periods of time— constitutes an irreparable injury, and protecting First Amendment freedoms always serves the public interest.
A status hearing has been set for March 4th.