In an important victory for LGBT rights activists and for civil liberties in general, on Tuesday the top legal official for the City of Chicago sent the American Civil Liberties Union a letter saying they would not arrest protesters at a forthcoming February 13th Gay Liberation Network (GLN) protest for violation of an ordinance which bans most picketing of religious institutions immediately before, during or after religious services are being conducted.
After a similar protest last year in front of Holy Name Cathedral, the right wing blogosphere lit up with complaints that our protest violated 8-4-010(j) of the Chicago Municipal Code, demanding criminal prosecution of the protesters by the City of Chicago.
Knowing that right-wing activists might try to make good on last year's threats at this year's Freedom to Marry Protest, and that the City had threatened arrests of anti-Church of Scientology activists a few months ago, earlier this month GLN organizers contacted the Illinois Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union for legal advice. The ACLU last Friday wrote a letter to Police Superintendent Jody Weis, CPD General Counsel Debra Kirby, Corporation Counsel Mara Georges and18th District Commander Kenneth Angarone, informing the City of the forthcoming protest and directly asking if they intended to enforce the controversial ordinance. The City's response from Corporation Counsel Georges was unusual in its rapidity and in diametric contrast to its usual hard-line stance against protesters.
We are glad that cooler heads have prevailed at the City and that the February 13th protest will go forward without unnecessary threats of arrest to the participants. We especially want to thank Harvey Grossman and Adam Schwartz of the American Civil Liberties Union for their intercession on our behalf.
The significance of this development can be boiled down to three main points:
1) For the City of Chicago to decide not to enforce this ordinance is a tacit admission that the law is an unconstitutional infringement on the free speech of those who oppose religious leaderships;
2) This is a victory for all who value free speech and are opposed to the rapid erosion of civil liberties that we have seen under the Obama and Bush administrations, and the attacks on such rights carried out locally by Patrick Fitzgerald and outgoing Mayor Daley.
3) This is a victory for LGBT rights advocates and secularists opposed to the privileged position that religious speech is often given over LGBT rights advocacy and other valuable speech.
Our 10:30 AM, Sunday, February 13th protest in front of Holy Name Cathedral, 735 N. State Street, is a direct response to Chicago Cardinal George's recent high-profile lobbying against the soon to be implemented Illinois civil unions law.
The leadership of the Catholic Church has opposed every LGBT rights measure ever proposed in this state - whether for equal employment, housing, access to public accommodations or marriage. We find it galling that heretofore they, as a non-tax paying entity receiving millions of tax dollars for its social service agencies, received special rights against those attempting to exercise our 1st Amendment right to protest. The City's refusal to enforce this unconstitutional ordinance against most picketing of religious institutions is a welcome victory for LGBT rights and civil liberties in general.
The February 13th protest will focus on three demands:
*** Oppose the anti-LGBT bigotry of the Catholic hierarchy; support the many pro-equal rights Catholics organizing for change within the denomination
*** Demand full equal marriage rights in Illinois
*** Demand that tax dollars no longer go to tax-exempt religious groups that refuse to commit to equal rights for LGBT people.
For more information about the February 13th protest, email the Gay Liberation Network at LGBTliberation@aol.com
Follow Andy Thayer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GLNChicago