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Religious Liberty Under Fire: Wheaton College Students Sue Chicago After Evangelism Restricted in Millennium Park

09-19-2019
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Lurie Garden in Millennium Park located in Chicago, Illinois. (Image credit: Adobe Stock)
Lurie Garden in Millennium Park located in Chicago, Illinois. (Image credit: Adobe Stock)

Dr. Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair for Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College. He appeared on Thursday edition of CBN's Newswatch to discuss the students' lawsuit against the city of Chicago. Newswatch is seen weekdays on the CBN News Channel. Click here for a programming schedule. 

A group of four Wheaton College students is pushing back after Chicago's Millennium Park restricts any type of evangelism. 

The park is one of the Windy City's top tourist attractions. It hosts almost 25 million visitors every year and is the number one tourist attraction in the Midwestern US, according to Wikipedia. But now the city is limiting access to those who want to share the gospel. 

"An essential part of Christianity is sharing the gospel," said Jeremy Chong, a sophomore at the college, told the Chicago Tribune.

The four students have used the park to preach and hand out evangelistic literature. On Wednesday, they filed a lawsuit over new park rules, saying the rules restrict their right to free speech in a public forum and infringe on the students right to exercise their religion.

"We think this lawsuit is as much about our clients as it is the right of the public to receive literature and receive speeches," the plaintiffs' attorney, John Mauck told the newspaper. 

"The public park and sidewalks are the traditional places and the only places where you can freely communicate, and now they want to take that away," he said.

The students are members of the Wheaton Evangelism Teams, a student-led program that shares the gospel in Chicago on Friday nights, according to Christianity Today

According to their attorneys, the students were first told by park staff back in December of 2018 that they could no longer preach or hand out literature. Over the next several months, the students continued to share the gospel at the park. During that period, they were approached by a park employee only one time and told they could not preach at the park.

In April, the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, which runs Millennium Park, updated park rules. One new rule divided the park into 11 "rooms," or sections, and prohibited "the making of speeches and passing out of written communications" in 10 of the 11 sections, according to the city's website

The group's attorneys then sent the city a letter promising legal action if the new rules were not revised to conform to the US Constitution. They received no response from the city. 

The group's attorneys told Christianity Today that if more parks begin isolating free speech in this manner, it will begin weakening the stronghold of public free speech in traditional public forums. 

The students say they hold no grudge against the city or park officials. They just want to share the gospel in the park. 

"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," Chong told the Tribune

CBN News contacted the city of Chicago on Thursday afternoon for a comment on this story. At the time of publication, we had not heard back. 

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