CHICAGO – With just two weeks to go before Illinois voters go to the polls on April 4 to select candidates for a variety of local offices, the ACLU of Illinois today issued an open letter to local public officials calling on them to fulfill their responsibilities under the First Amendment, and resist any efforts to limit free speech. The letter follows a series of recent events in which organized, well-funded groups have voiced strident opposition to local events featuring positive messages about LGBTQ+ rights, sometimes leading to threats of cancellation. Some of the opposition to LGBTQ+-themed events have come with explicit or implicit threats of violence. Some of the groups protesting the events have further advocated for banning LGBTQ+ themed books and materials from public libraries and even schools.
The letter released by the organization today reminds local elected officials across the state – on local councils, school boards and even park district boards – that they “have an essential role to play in guarding against this threat, and in defending free speech” and protecting civil liberties.
“In recent months, the ACLU of Illinois has come to the aid of groups and individuals whose expression has been threatened by those who object to events featuring content celebrating LGBTQ+ identity,” added Colleen K. Connell, Executive Director of the ACLU of Illinois. “In several instances, governmental entities have not fulfilled their responsibilities to protect those engaging in peaceful speech and activities – potentially allowing the classic “heckler’s veto” to censor speech. When local officials fail to protect expression as the First Amendment requires, we are not afraid to step in and insist on compliance.”
The letter cites recent events in the Chicago suburbs where local officials nearly caved in to loud demands to limit speech, threatening to revoke permissions for events that promoted positive messages and support for the LGBTQ+ community. In one noted example, a suburban Chicago bakery had its business license threatened by local officials after the bakery’s owner was subjected to harassment and vandalism for hosting a drag brunch. In another instance, a local park district threatened to cancel long-approved drag programming at the village’s inaugural Pride Fest after activist groups monopolized the public comment session of a public meeting with strident, hateful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
The letter notes that “(l)ocal government officials have sometimes strayed from core First Amendment principles in “understandable, but misguided, attempts to avoid controversy or quiet discord in their communities,” but makes clear that the local officials must protect speech for everyone in their communities, and resist demands for censorship in any form.
The ACLU letter further reminds that the First Amendment also protects loud public protest, including at public meetings, and it is urgent that local public bodies still permit public comment from all sides as part of their sessions. The ACLU encourages local elected officials to establish clear, neutral rules for public comment and adhere to those rules no matter the subject.
You can read the entire letter here.