New Chicago Ordinance Stifles Free Speech

Chicago—The City of Chicago has proposed an Ordinance (No. 10-8-334) to which both the Pro-Life Action League and its legal counsel, the Thomas More Society, object as the measure would impose undue burdens on free speech and public assembly, and would even threaten to suppress the constitutional rights of citizens to express their opinions about contentious issues of public policy in the public square and “marketplace of ideas.”

The Ordinance defines restricted, permit-required public assemblies to include gatherings of as few as two citizens on the public way, which is a traditional public forum for expression of free speech. Groups are required to apply for permits to conduct such public assemblies through a complex, elaborate, and vague permit scheme, which greatly hinders freedom of expression. 

“The Ordinance will effectively silence all pro-life groups,” said Eric Scheidler, Executive Director of the Pro-Life Action League. “The city isn’t even clear on what the exact permit requirements are. They want to force protesters to comply with an elaborate, unwieldy, and immensely burdensome bureaucratic procedure.”

Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, which has represented the Pro-Life Action League for many years and won two U.S. Supreme Court decisions in defense of its right to protest, said that the city government has overstepped the bounds of its legal authority in proposing to regulate and restrict free speech and free assembly through this Ordinance. 

“The City of Chicago evidently fears civil protest so much it seems willing to trample on the fundamental entitlements to freedom of assembly and expression that are the birthright of every American citizen,” he said. “We believe that the Ordinance is unconstitutional on its face, and that its elaborate bureaucratic requirements are prior restraints on free speech posing a serious risk, if not an invitation, that police will misapply them in ways that flout the Constitution. Regrettably, our city may be earning a sad new reputation as a citadel of authoritarian repression. Its leaders ignore that nonviolent dissent is a sign of a healthy democracy and that ‘the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies’ (Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 375 (1927) (Brandeis, J., concurring), and not in the suppression of free speech.”

Eric Scheidler’s letter to the City of Chicago can be read here.

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