Wednesday the City Council voted to approve Mayor Rahm Emanuel's new protest ordinance. The controversial ordinance was greatly opposed by many Chicago residents as these new measures threaten to rob citizens of their civil liberties, most notably our right to free speech and our right to congregate peacefully.
Additionally, although this ordinance was originally meant to be temporary (as a proposed way to increase security during the G8 and NATO meetings), Mayor Rahm recently announced that much of this ordinance would remain in place after the May meetings.
The ordinance includes new parade restrictions, increased fines, new closing times for parks and beaches, and more security cameras (which will make Chicago's surveillance system the most extensive in the country). New restrictions will even require people to register bullhorns before use at events.
These restrictions are not only excessive and invasive, but they will also serve to prevent citizens from protesting and exercising their civil liberties. Groups will not be able to congregate freely as these amended security measures will restrict their movements and keep them from particular locations, and increased fines and stipulations (such as those regarding bullhorns) will impede their right to free speech.
Overall, the ordinance will serve to significantly limit Chicagoans' civil liberties, and this could set a dangerous precedence throughout the rest of the country as well. These new limitations on free speech could not come at a worse time, at a time when many of us want to make their voices heard and when so many of our fundamental rights as Americans seem at risk. Just this week many popular websites chose to shut down shop for 24 hours in order to protest new copyright legislation which would allow the government to censor and limit Internet access to certain sites.
Freedom of speech and the right to congregate peacefully are two of the crucial cornerstones on which this country was built over 200 years ago. Our founding fathers were well aware of the consequences created by government oppression and lack of civil liberties, and the Bill of Rights was their testament against such tactics and their earnest attempt to found a country which would be almost entirely based upon personal freedom. Chicago's new ordinance and SOPA detract from these rights and our liberties, and we cannot allow Big Brother to rob from us that which is not theirs to take.
Perhaps Benjamin Franklin said it best: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety." He did not mean that safety was not of the utmost importance, but that security and freedom should not be mutually exclusive. We can live in a country that is both free and safe -- that is, after all, the very reason our country was founded in the first place.
Follow Rev. Gregory Seal Livingston on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gslivingston