The Cloud Gate in Chicago, Illinois
Chicago’s Cloud Gate is one of the midwest’s biggest tourist destinations. 25 million people visit ‘the Bean’ annually.

Four students from the Christian Wheaton College in suburban Chicago are suing their city for denying them the right to preach their religion to tourists at Chicago’s most famous park.

The members of the Chicago Evangelism Team claim security stymied them from sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the popular Millennium Park. Millennium Park is a 24-acre downtown venue that hosts everything from concerts and art shows to nature walks. It is also home to the Cloud Gate, otherwise known as ‘the Bean’: a must-see tourist destination in the Windy City.

The students say the city violated their First Amendment rights.

Preaching Prohibited

The four students in question first attempted to evangelize and distribute Christian literature at Millennium Park last December. They were told to relocate to a different part of the park. Then security staff informed them they could not evangelize in the new location, either. The students contested. A pair of supervisors insisted they were “soliciting” their beliefs to the public. They then said the students were effectively violating city rules prohibiting such behavior on the park sidewalk.

They returned the next week and a similar scenario played out. According to the complaint, this cat-and-mouse game continued for weeks.

“Park employees… prohibited the Students’ activities near ‘the Bean’ directing them to other parts of the Park, only later to prohibit them from those parts of the Park as well. On at least one occasion, a Park employee informed the Students that they could not discuss religion in the Park and ordered the Students to leave the Park if they wanted to talk about religion.”

It all came to a head in April of this year. Recreational operations manager Christopher B. Deans informed the students that the city had enacted new municipal rules. These new rules require all speakers receive licensed approval from two city departments before they may speak at the park.

The city eventually dropped the licensing requirement months later following a letter of objection from the students’ legal counsel. However, the ban on passing out written communications remains in place for most of the park. This effectively pushed the students to the park’s outer edges, where they wouldn’t ‘interfere’ with public enjoyment.

First Amendment Infringement

“For the sake of every citizen who desires to make use of the rights our forefathers bled for, we pray that the City of Chicago amends their unconstitutional code,” declared sophomore Matt Swart. He, along with three other members of the Chicago Evangelism Team, are represented by religious freedom law firm Mauck & Baker, LLC. They’ve defended churches, businesses, and individuals in similar First Amendment predicaments.

The law group is now seeking a permanent injunction against the rules governing behavior at Millenium Park in federal court; particularly the ban on conduct that “disrupts another visitor’s peaceful enjoyment of performance or amenity in the Park.”

Lawyers claim the city is simply using the vague notion of public interference to censor speech it doesn’t like. They note that their clients don’t use bullhorns or interrupt scheduled events. “With street preaching, you are not going to be drowning anybody out because there are hundreds of people coming and going,” explains head attorney John Mauck. “When you evangelize, you want to go where the people are. We need to protect civil liberties vigorously so we don’t get into a situation as they have in Hong Kong where the rights are gradually taken away and then you have civil unrest. We want to hold the line here for the Gospel and for everybody else.”

Clashing Rights

The students say they simply want to spread their belief in a non-disruptive way at one of their city’s most notable locations. One of the students, Jeremy Chong, said that “An essential part of Christianity is sharing the gospel… We are there to share the greatest news of all time, which is that sinful people can be saved, and can be reconciled to God by faith in Jesus who died on the cross to save all sinners.”

Meanwhile, the city has clear rules, hastily assembled as they are. And evangelizing for your deity and passing out literature to passers-by is explicitly prohibited. The city says they just want to “[respect] the rights of patrons to use and enjoy the park.”

Are these rules against public disruption justified? Where, exactly, is the intersection between the First Amendment rights of the students and the rights of the city to manage conduct at one of their largest tourist attractions?

30 comments

  1. Lori says:

    If they win they will have to accept that others will be passing out literature about there religions as well, like Satanists, Buddhists, the Pasta people, Catholics, Muslims, Pagans, etc. It could become an interesting place. They need to think before they push to preach.

    1. Chris says:

      They don’t think about such things, though. And if they do think about it they fight any other group wanting the same rights because to their way of thinking they’re the only ones who deserve it because they’re the only ones who are right.

    2. Lionheart says:

      Totally agree!

      🦁❤️

      1. susan jones says:

        And frankly, I don’t want to be bothered by evangelists when I am just going sightseeing.

    3. Rev Marti says:

      People should have the right to enjoy the park without a religious intent. If the park allows rental space they can proselytize all they want as long as they don’t harass park visitors.

    4. Mary Benoit says:

      Remember the Moonies in the airport? There is such variety of thoughts. So many are interesting, some weird. Some influence me others remind me of the differences and help me see my own belief.
      As long as they don’t interfere with me.

      1. tom b says:

        Mary…well said…Peace…Tom B

  2. Alicia says:

    The only rights being taken away are the rights of tourists who just want to walk through a park and see the sights without being annoyed by someone screaming in their faces about Jesus (or anything else for that matter).

    I walk home from work on nice days (sometimes not so nice days) and at least once a week, there are Jehovah’s Witnesses with their easels set up in the park that I walk through. When I’m walking, I listen to music and I don’t stop. I walk at a 3.9 mph average pace. It never fails that one or more of these obnoxious people will step in my path to hand me literature or just talk about how I need to convert. No…I’m not having it!

    Now, that’s in a park in my home town! If I was out of State, going to a park to see sights I may not have a chance to see again, do you think I want to be bothered? No.

    If they want to preach, let them find a hall, or go on church property and put up flyers on where they will be so if anyone is interested, they can go.

    Bottom line here: You have your beliefs and I have mine. I don’t push my beliefs on you and I don’t expect you to push your beliefs on me. Freedom of speech? What about MY right to a peaceful day in the park?

    1. Stephanie Willey says:

      I could not agree more

    2. susan jones says:

      Absolutely!

  3. Guairdean says:

    Handing out flyers to those interested should be allowed. Preaching loudly and haranguing passersby should be prohibited. Far too many Christians feel that the only way to “convert the masses” is by volume. It has the opposite effect. Conversion by “In your face” doesn’t work any more than conversion by sword. You may get a display of piety if that will shut you up, but you’ll never get true belief. Sew the seeds of faith, make the information available, but don’t think that the crowd will share your fervor and that your loud proselytizing will do anything more than harden hearts against you.

  4. Cyndi McReynolds says:

    Free speech is guaranteed in our constitution. Unless they are threatening/harassing people, they have the right to say whatever they like. If people don’t like their message, they can just keep walking. Tourists won’t evaporate over a 30 second inconvenience.

    Many cities have a designated “free speech zone” and issue permits fir public use. I hope they have good legal representation. They have the right to speak.

    1. Alicia says:

      And others have the right to not be harassed. You know as well as I that these people don’t stop and just speaking. They try to force literature into people’s hands and they get right up in your face. I wonder how these people would like it if Satanists, Wiccans or Pagans did what they’re doing….

  5. Chris says:

    Sounds like this law firm needs to brush up on the First Amendment. It only applies to the Federal Government, not cities, states, or other localities. Of course, the current administration needs to brush up on the First Amendment as well, but that’s another issue.

    I have no problem with someone setting up a table and offering their literature if I happen to stop and look. If I’m visiting a landmark, however, I don’t want to have the time ruined by a bunch of zealots trying to force their beliefs onto me. Believe what you want, fine. I have my beliefs and you forcing me to listen to you or getting in my way pushing your literature at me only shows to me how wrong your beliefs are.

  6. atatakaidanjp says:

    There are specific parks where debate and preaching is allowed in various countries, including England. If these people want such a thing, I recommend there be ONE park in Chicago, away from the bustle of tourists, where these people can preach all they like. They must also know that they must also accept others from other religions and non-religious views to do the same, without hindrance.

    1. ET says:

      Make good sense to me.

    2. Pastor Marc says:

      Totally agree!!!

    3. revbjbecker says:

      Like “Speakers’ Corner” in Hyde Park in London. Sometimes tourists go there especially to hear the speakers, some of whom have been quite good in the past.

    4. Loren says:

      Chicago has “Bug House Square”, a small near north park that has hosted speakers from every, EVERY, movement known.

    5. Alicia says:

      WOW! That makes sense!

  7. John A Anderson, CD, CIF Mons ON says:

    While I agree that they need to allow ALL faiths to preach if they want to preach, the odds of that being agreeable to them are very slim. After all, they are following the one true way, right??? (Tongue firmly planted in cheek) They will view it as an attack on their faith. Unfortunately, that seems to be the way that the Americans are responding to everything they disagree with, as an attack on their way of life.

    1. Quasi says:

      Christinas, and especially Evangelicals wrongly think that NOT being able to discriminate (as required by their chosen brand of Christian mythology) is persecution.

    2. Lori says:

      It does seem like that.

  8. tom b says:

    It seems to me that as long as they do not block people or continue preaching when people walk away, they should be allowed to express their misguided view of the universe…Peace…Tom B

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