A group of college students who wish to evangelize visitors and pass out free religious literature in Chicago’s Millennium Park are suing the city over rules prohibiting the practice.
Four students at Wheaton College who say they want to spread the word of God at the “Bean” — Chicago’s famous sculpture, formally called Cloud Gate — filed the lawsuit on Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The lawsuit stems from a group of students with Wheaton College’s Chicago Evangelism Team, who would meet for dinner on Friday evenings and pray before taking a roughly hourlong train trip to Chicago.
“We are there to share the greatest news of all time, which is that sinful people can be saved, and they can be reconciled to God by faith in Jesus who died on the cross to save all sinners,” Jeremy Chong, a sophomore at Wheaton College, told the newspaper.
In December, they were allegedly stopped by a park security guard who told them they were not allowed to preach or distribute free documents or religious literature at the site.
The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events officially updated rules for the park in April that include prohibiting “the making of speeches and passing out of written communications” in certain areas, the outlet noted.
The park, located off the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago, was divided up into 11 “rooms” or sections.
Passing out fliers or giving public lectures is prohibited in 10 out of the 11 rooms — including the area where the massive tourist attraction is located. It is only authorized in the Wrigley Square section of the park.
The rules also reportedly ban “conduct that objectively interferes” with visitors being able to enjoy the park’s displays or interrupt pedestrian traffic.
John Mauck, the plaintiffs’ attorney, told the Tribune that the new limits have posed restrictions on the college students.
“The Bean is one of the highest tourist attractions in the United States … that’s where you want to get your message out,” he said.
The college students are asking for Millennium Park to be declared a free speech area and have the city stop enforcing the rules.
“This isn’t just about evangelists,” he said. “This is for politicians campaigning, political activists and whoever else wants free speech.”
The Hill has reached out to the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs for comment.
Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey told the Chicago Tribune that the city would not comment on the litigation because it has not been received by officials as of Thursday morning.
“However, the new rules protect First Amendment rights while also respecting the rights of patrons to use and enjoy the park,” he said in an email to the outlet.