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City won't block GLN Sunday demo

Written by Gary Barlow, Gay Chicago Magazine - LINK

GLN permalink 2-8-2011

CHICAGO - The city won't use an ordinance aimed at preventing protests outside houses of worship to stop a Gay Liberation Network demonstration planned for 10:30 a.m. Feb. 13 in front of Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral.

The protest is aimed at Cardinal Francis George and other Catholic leaders who've worked to defeat LGBT rights legislation in Springfield.

Adam Schwartz, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union-Illinois, had written city officials on behalf of GLN Jan. 21, asking whether the city planned to enforce its ordinance "prohibiting demonstrations in the public way within 150 feet and one half hour of a religious service in a place of worship."

Schwartz said the group was concerned because of published reports that the city had recently used the ordinance to stop a demonstration outside a Church of Scientology facility. He went on to allege that the ordinance is unconstitutional.

Andy Thayer, co-founder Gay Liberation Network

GLN co-founder Andy Thayer said a protest at Holy Name Cathedral Feb. 13 is targeting Catholic leaders' opposition to LGBT equality. Photo by Gary Barlow

"First, its exemption for labor picketing comprises speaker-based and content-based discrimination," Schwartz wrote. "Second, the ordinance is not narrowly tailored to an important government interest. ... While government may regulate disruptive activity that interferes with conducting a religious service, it may not ban all expressive activity within 150 feet of the place of worship."

Chicago Corporation Counsel Mara Georges said in a response to Schwartz that the city won't enforce the ordinance against GLN's protest.

"The City does not intend to enforce this aforementioned ordinance at this time," Georges wrote. "However, please be aware that other provisions of the Municipal Code that govern the conduct of activities on the public way may apply to the conduct of your planned demonstration."

GLN co-founder Andy Thayer said that's an important concession by the city.

"The city of Chicago knows that we will fight something we know is unconstitutional and that they know is unconstitutional," Thayer said. "They decided to save themselves some grief."

The ordinance's exemption for labor pickets raises a red flag, Thayer said, because it favors one expression of free speech over others.

"The Supreme Court has said over and over again that you cannot have content-related bans on free speech," Thayer said.

GLN has protested outside Holy Name before, and Thayer said the group plans to do so again this year without obstructing worshipers going to the church.

"This is a protest against the Catholic hierarchy, not against the Catholic Church per se," Thayer said. "There are many, many lay Catholics who are in favor of LGBT equality, but the Catholic hierarchy continues to organize against every pro-gay bill that comes down the pike. Cardinal George just proved that all over again with his 11th-hour attempts to scuttle the civil unions bill."

In addition to protesting the Catholic leadership's opposition to LGBT rights legislation, the demonstration is also aimed at demanding full marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples and that tax dollars not go to tax-exempt religious groups that don't support equal rights for LGBTs.


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