Alex Blaze

Chicago Won't Violate Marriage Protestors' Free Speech

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 28, 2011 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Catholic church, gay marriage, marriage, protest

Last year, the Gay Liberation Network in Chicago protested a Catholic church on Valentine's Day for marriage,gln-protest.png and some folks noted that it's actually illegal to protest within 150 feet and 30 minutes of a religious service, for anything besides labor. Since the ordinance was almost enforced this past year (at a Scientology protest), the ACLU of Illinois got the city to say that they wouldn't enforce the unconstitutional law:

On January 21st, the ACLU of Illinois wrote to the Chicago Police Department on behalf of the GLN. The ACLU explained that the GLN will not obstruct the flow of pedestrian traffic on this sidewalk, or block parishioners from entering or leaving the Cathedral. The ACLU's letter makes clear that this broad ban violates the First Amendment. The ACLU pointed out that the ordinance contains an exemption for labor picketing, creating speaker-based and content-based discrimination. We also noted that while the City can regulate disruptive activity that interferes with the conduct of a religious service, the government cannot ban all expressive activity within 150 feet of all places of worship. We asked the CPD to let us know if they were going to enforce the ordinance at the GLN's demonstration.

On January 25th, Chicago Corporation Counsel Mara Georges responded, saying that the City "does not intend to enforce" this ordinance at this time. This means that a peaceful demonstration will be able to go forward.

The law, from a policy standpoint, just seems to be a way to favor and protect religious activity from any sort of questioning and politicization, even though those teachings are constantly injecting themselves into the political process. The law's about a power dynamic - churches should be allowed to tell us what to do but we shouldn't be allowed to tell tem what to do - which is the exact reason we have protections for free speech; it's easy to allow powerful people to say what they want, but everyone's supposed to have the same right to speak as anyone else in a democracy.

Now, as to whether the protests are advisable is another question. I like tactics that takes an LGBT message and puts it in front of a hostile or apathetic audience and gets out of the echo chamber, and this protest does. In coverage of last year's protest, the Church played stupid when it came to the point of the protest:

Protester Andrew Ciscel, of Chicago, said Valentine's Day should be viewed as Freedom to Marry Day. He passed out pamphlets calling on members of the Catholic community to withhold their weekly tithe, confront their priest and criticize the "rigid definition of families and the patriarchal posture of the church."

Colleen Dolan, spokeswoman for the Chicago Archdiocese, said the protesters were misdirected.

"They may not like it, but it's the teaching of the church that marriage is between one man and one woman," Dolan said. "Those of us in the church don't get to choose what the teachings are."

If they actually thought they could change Church teaching, then, yeah. My guess is the intended audience wasn't the Church itself, but the people going in and out of the service, who do get to choose both what teachings they'll follow and whether or not they are "in the church." I just hope that the message of the protest sticks with ideas instead of calling people names. Here's some coverage from last year's protest:

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I'm in favor of the protests AND in favor of the law as well. People should be able to have a peaceful place to worship whether I agree with their politics or not.
I do not believe that churches should be tax exempt though.

Why am I not surprised that labor got an exemption in Chicago?