Two suburban residents today forcefully rejected threats of lawsuits from the group Awake Illinois if they continue to express their opposition to the organization and its agenda. Maggie Romanovich of Wheaton and Kylie Spahn of Downers Grove received letters from leaders of Awake Illinois in early September suggesting that Awake would file a defamation lawsuit against them if they did not “cease and desist” from such criticism and remove existing online posts.
Among other activities, Awake Illinois has urged school officials to remove LGBTQ-inclusive books and called for the cancellation of drag events in the Chicago suburbs, including a drag brunch at the Uprising Bakery in Lake in the Hills and a drag event at the Downers Grove Public Library. After Awake promoted their opposition to the Uprising event, the bakery was violently vandalized and forced to reschedule the event. Threats of violence against Library officials caused the Downers Grove event to be cancelled.
Awake Illinois officials have repeatedly used hostile epithets against those they disagree with, labeling them “groomers,” “hateful,” and “perverts.” Yet in the instance of the letters to Romanovich and Spahn, Awake seeks to curb the speech of others.
The ACLU of Illinois has authored letters to Awake Illinois on behalf of Romanovich and Spahn, the targets of the group’s actions. The letters reject the threatened lawsuits as groundless, noting that all of the material cited by Awake Illinois is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
“These letters from Awake Illinois are empty threats with zero legal basis,” said Rebecca Glenberg, senior supervising attorney at the ACLU of Illinois who signed the letters. “Awake Illinois and its members consistently use harsh and often offensive language directed against others to advance their interests, but now feign injury when our clients express strong feelings against them.”
“If they think these letters will stop our clients or others from speaking out against what they see as a dangerous agenda, they are wrong.”
Awake Illinois’ letter to Romanovich referred to her letter to the editor printed in the Daily Herald, which criticized a congressional candidate for his connection to Awake Illinois, opining that the group is appalling, extremist, homophobic, racially insensitive and otherwise objectionable. Such opinions are constitutionally protected and cannot be the basis of a defamation lawsuit, the ACLU of Illinois wrote.
The action comes shortly after a Member of Congress revealed that he had received a similar “cease and desist” letter from Awake Illinois. In mid-September, the Chicago Tribune reported that Awake Illinois sent the letter to Representative Sean Casten, a vocal critic of the group. Like Romanovich and Spahn, Casten rejected the group’s threats of a lawsuit.
“Our Constitution allows groups like Awake Illinois to express their views in the public square like anyone else. But they may not use the courts to suppress the views of others,” Glenberg noted.
You can read the letters to Awake Illinois on behalf of Romanovich and Spahn here and here.