Says previous agreement on free expression at McCormick Place should be respected

Seeking to protect the "effective exercise of First Amendment expressive activities" during the upcoming NATO meeting in Chicago, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today asked the United States Secret Service to release its security plan for the area surrounding McCormick Place by the end of the day on Monday, April 23. Specifically, the ACLU asked the Secret Service to release specific details of the security perimeter and plan that it intends to maintain at McCormick Place during the NATO meeting.

The ACLU noted that McCormick Place currently operates under a federal court settlement agreement, from a 2003 ACLU of Illinois case, that regulates access to the facility by those wishing to engage in free expression during events at the facility. The agreement that resolved the ACLU case, Albrecht v. Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, mandates that at least one person be permitted at every entrance to McCormick Place in order to distribute leaflets and creates outdoor group expressive areas near McCormick Place where all forms of expressive activity is permitted.

The ACLU of Illinois letter, sent on Wednesday, April 18, notes that conversations with the Secret Service leads the ACLU to conclude that the security perimeter is likely to include the entrances and outdoor areas protected by the free speech areas and that persons not credentialed for the NATO meetings "will not be allowed to enter within the security perimeter, including groups and individuals seeking to engage in protected expressive activities, even if they are willing to go through the same security as the media."

"The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the operators of McCormick Place, made an agreement enforceable by the federal courts that they would provide access to those engaged in expressive activities to attendees of events at the facility," said Harvey Grossman, legal director of the ACLU of Illinois. “We need to know if the Authority and the Secret Service are planning to violate that agreement, their justifications for doing so and what alternatives for communication they are willing to provide to those seeking to engage NATO attendees." If the circumstances justify court intervention, we need to proceed swiftly to protect the First Amendment rights of demonstrators.

"It is time for the Secret Service to release their plan."

The ACLU letter also request information on any limitations on speech or association outside the security perimeter. Based on discussions with federal officials, it seems likely that large groups will be limited in their ability to gather even on the outside of the security perimeter. The ACLU specifically asks the Secret Service to specify where large groups will be allowed to assemble near McCormick.

"We have been in discussions with the Secret Service for many months all the while waiting for the release of the federal government’s security plan for this event," added the ACLU's Grossman. "To ensure that free speech and free expression are preserved and protected during the NATO meetings, the government needs to make their plans known now.