Bubble Zone Encounter with Chicago Police
Since the enactment; of Chicago’s Bubble Zone law in November, I’ve been joining the St. Mary of the Angels Young Adult group at Planned Parenthood Saturday mornings. There’s never a dull moment, with the police showing up nearly every week.
Officer Misinterprets The Law—Then Relents
This week was no different. There were about twenty prayers present at the time, including several seminarians from Mundelein Seminary and the League’s Joe Scheidler. The police arrived and spoke with the “clinic escorts” at the doorway, who gestured towards the seminarians.
The officer went inside, then returned to her car. Shortly afterwards two more squads arrived. The officer who took charge (whose name I did not get, unfortunately), then told us about the Bubble Zone law [PDF]—apparently as Planned Parenthood interpreted it for her.
Here’s the text from the video:
“You guys cannot come within eight feet of this doorway. If you come within 50 feet of the doorway, and within eight feet of the doorway, and start giving them things, chanting, prayers, when someone is coming down, you will be written an NOV. You cannot do any abortion [inaudible], counseling, or anything like that. If you do [inaudible]. It’s a law in the city of Chicago. They made it, I’m just here to enforce it.”
Veteran sidewalk counselor Shannon Buckner, prayer warrior Adrian Blanarovich, and I went to speak to her. Again from the video:
Adrian: [Inaudible question]
Officer: Not when they’re coming through, you can’t.
Adrian: That’s not what the law says. Do you want to see it?
Shannon: The law doesn’t say anything about that.
Officer: OK, nice. You cannot, it’s counseling.
Adrian: Praying is not counseling.
Officer: You’re picketing within 150 feet.
The officer seems to have mistakenly read the sections above the relevant one [PDF], which prohibit picketing within 150 feet of schools and churches (and which our attorneys from the Thomas More Society have told me have been found unconstitutional).
Signs Aren’t Allowed To Touch The Sidewalk?
The officer then shifted her attention to the Jesus sign being held by a prayer warrior. Indicating a large Truth Tour sign being held by two prayer warriors, she said, “This cannot be left on the public way. It has to be lifted off—It can’t be tied to anything.”
I told her that we’ve been doing Face The Truth Tours in Chicago for years, using these very signs, and that we’ve never been told we cannot rest our signs on the sidewalk.
She then said we couldn’t “block the public way” with our signs, that this was “public property, property of the City of Chicago.” She indicated that we should prop them on an easel like the seminarians had done with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I finally was able to get the name and phone number of the Watch Commander. I will be calling him on Monday to clarify the legality of holding signs on public property.
Officer Gives Us Her Permission To Pray
The officer then returned to discussing the bubble zone law. When Shannon showed her the ordinance, she seemed surprised, almost as if that is not what she had been shown before. Shannon clarified that this was the full ordinance that was in effect—and Adrian showed that the underlined portion was the relevant one. After reading the ordinance, she seemed to change her tone.
Apparently, not finding “prayer” in the ordinance, she concluded, “OK, you can pray. The praying is fine.” However she still misunderstood the meaning of “approach,” thinking that 1) we couldn’t come closer than 8 feet to the doorway and that 2) we were only allowed to offer literature to women who first asked us for it (prohibiting us from even speaking to women going in to make the offer). Both of these interpretations are incorrect and unconstitutional. The officer has now, in effect, created a third bubble:
- there’s a 50 foot bubble all of this takes place within
- each person who enters the 50 foot bubble gets their own, personal 8-foot bubble that we cannot approach within
- the door has its own 8 foot bubble that we also cannot approach.
To appease the police for the time being, Shannon agreed to cease sidewalk counseling for the day, speaking only to women who first spoke to her.
Planned Parenthood’s Bubble Burst
The highlight of the morning, though, was when the “clinic escorts” showed the officer their laminated, color-coded map of the location. Despite their numerous attempts over several minutes to convince her otherwise, the officer allowed us to stay put and did not prohibit us from praying or displaying our signs.
As Shannon and I remarked to each other, Planned Parenthood didn’t get what they thought they were getting when they asked Vi Daley to introduce the bubble zone legislation. So far no citations have been issued, and the group continues to gather every Saturday morning as they have for years.