Ed Stetzer on Chicago’s Millennium Park Restricting Evangelism

Ed: What happened in the first place?

Mauck & Baker: The circumstance began on December 7, 2018, when two of the four Wheaton College students engaged in street evangelism on the sidewalk between Millennium Park and Michigan Ave. Park staff told them they were not allowed to hand out their literature or preach and the students stopped.

Later that day, one of the other students showed up at the park and began open air preaching at The Bean. Once again, park staff told the Wheaton student that he was not allowed to preach.

Over the next few months, the Wheaton students continued to attempt to share the gospel at the park. On one occasion, a Park employee told the students that they could not discuss religion at the park.

This continued until April 5, 2019, when one of the students was approached by park staff while preaching and informed the student of newly enacted rules governing the park and that his evangelism was violating the new rules. Subsequently, the Wheaton students have stopped gathering at the Park altogether.

Ed: Has the city been open to any discussion since the first incident?

Mauck & Baker: In March of 2019, the city sent a letter to the students’ legal counsel admitting park staff’s wrong-doing during the December 7th incident. Subsequent to the notice of the rules change on April 5th, Mauck & Baker sent a letter to the city promising legal action if the rules were not revised to conform to the U.S. Constitution. The city offered no response and has been silent on substantive legal issues or procedural intentions. On August 26, 2019, without notice, it revised the Millennium Park Rules by taking out the permit requirement for exercising free speech but not amending the section that restricts free speech to one corner of the park by using the “rooms” language.

Ed: What are the implications if public parks can isolate speech to certain parts of a public park?

Mauck & Baker: If more parks begin isolating free speech in this manner, it will begin weakening the stronghold of public free speech in traditional public forums. These are areas where the public has historically gathered to freely express itself and there’s no greater example than a public park.

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Source: Christianity Today