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City No Longer Enforcing Law Against Church Protests

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CHICAGO (CBS) – A man who demonstrated outside Chicago’s Church of Scientology last year is pleased that the citation he received has been deemed unconstitutional.

The city decided to quit enforcing an ordinance forbidding protests outside churches while services are being conducted, spurred in part by the protest last year outside the Church of Scientology in South Lakeview.

Eight or nine protesters gathered outside the Church of Scientology location at 3011 N. Lincoln Ave. In response, church members taped a sign to the front window that announced services there are held virtually all day — from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Police arrived, and, citing the ordinance — which barred picketing or demonstrations on the public way within 150 feet of any place of worship “while services are being conducted” and 30 minutes before and after the service — asked the protesters to leave.

One refused. Alex Hageli, a lawyer who questions the practices of the Church of Scientology, instead accepted a citation and vowed to fight it. Hageli, a member of Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, questioned how a church could claim to be holding all-day services to keep protesters away.

After reviewing his complaint, the city’s Law Department has dropped the citation and deemed the ordinance unconstitutional — but not for the reason Hageli cited. Instead, it was because the ordinance included an exception for labor picketers.

“What was unconstitutional was that one type of picketing was being treated differently than another,” Law Department spokeswoman Jenny Hoyle said Monday. “If unions can do it, why can’t anyone else? Police officers will no longer be ticketing under that section of the code of the disorderly conduct ordinance.”

Hageli, who got a letter from the Law Department a week ago with its decision, said he’s pleased.

“Whatever their basis was for overturning it was, I don’t really care, as long as they don’t enforce it,” said Hageli, who was back picketing the Church of Scientology Saturday with about 10 other people.

The Church of Scientology protesters were not the only ones questioning the ordinance. When members of the Gay Liberation Network planned demonstrations outside of Holy Name Cathedral in past years, they were threatened with arrest.

But the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the ordinance was unconstitutional, and in January, city Corporation Counsel Mara Georges said the city would not enforce the ordinance for a demonstration the Gay Liberation Network was to hold the following month, the ACLU said.

The group went ahead with its protest in mid-February. They were protesting the Chicago Archdiocese and Francis Cardinal George’s opposition to same-sex civil unions and other gay rights legislation.

The Chicago Sun-Times contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire.

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