Ordinance change preserves free speech

By Editorial Board

Chicago’s Law Department recently decided to stop enforcing an ordinance that prohibited protesting outside places of worship during religious services.

The city changed its stance on the ordinance on April 11 when the Law Department ruled that a citation given to protesters outside the Chicago headquarters of the Church of Scientology last year was unconstitutional. The change in procedure closed a loophole being exploited to effectively prohibit all protests outside the headquarters.

The church posted a sign that said services went on all day, from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., in a roundabout attempt to entirely silence protesters during any time when they could actually be seen or heard. The city made the right move by shelving the ordinance to preserve people’s First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble and voice their opinions.

However, it’s a shame it had to come to this change in procedure. The restriction on protests during services was a reasonable one until it was exploited as a loophole for outright censorship. The right of religious expression and free practice of one’s faith is just as much part of the First Amendment as the freedom of speech and assembly, and both deserve equal protection under the law. Under the new policy, Chicago police need to take extra care to make sure protesters outside places of worship remain peaceful and don’t interrupt religious services in any way. Only peaceful assembly is protected under the First Amendment. We can’t shift from protecting religious practices at the expense of free speech to protecting free speech by interrupting religious expression. The law must work equally both ways.

This change could be a positive step for the city as long as it isn’t abused the same way the restriction on protests was. Protecting First Amendment rights and encouraging an open exchange of ideas can foster important social dialogue. If we can find an even balance between the right to speak out and the right to worship in peace, the city will be better off for it.