Wheaton College students allowed to preach in Millennium Park, judge says

In a 32-page order issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey granted an injunction to the college students — all members of Wheaton College’s Chicago Evangelism Team — that will prohibit the city from restricting their preaching in the sprawling downtown park.

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Students at Wheaton College sued the city last year, claiming security at Millennium Park prohibited them from preaching in the park and on its adjacent sidewalks — restrictions that the students said “severely hinder First Amendment rights for all within a public forum.”

Sun-Times file photo

A federal judge has ordered the city to allow Wheaton College students to continue preaching in and around Millennium Park. 

In a 32-page order issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey granted an injunction to the college students — all members of Wheaton College’s Chicago Evangelism Team — that will prohibit the city from restricting their preaching in the sprawling downtown park. 

The students sued the city last year, claiming security at Millennium Park prohibited them from preaching in the park and on its adjacent sidewalks — restrictions that the students said “severely hinder First Amendment rights for all within a public forum.”

Another group joined as intervening defendants, alleging they were prohibited from circulating petitions in the park. Blakey also granted an injunction in their favor that will allow them to continue passing out literature. 

“The record contains no evidence that Movants’ protected activities unreasonably interfered with the Park’s art or unduly disrupted others’ enjoyment of art or other programming,” Blakey wrote. “To the contrary, (Scott) Stewart (the executive director of the Millennium Park Foundation) conceded that ‘almost no one lodged complaints about their inability to enjoy the art’ in the Park, even before the current Park restrictions became effective.” 

“Without any specific evidence of an actual problem in need of solving, the City fails to show a compelling state interest to justify its significant restrictions,” the judge added. 

A representative for the city’s Law Department declined to comment. 

A status hearing in the lawsuit is scheduled for March 4.

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