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Chicago police get free speech education

Officers in the Chicago police force will undergo training on First Amendment rights after pro-life advocates and sidewalk counselors filed suit.

Attorneys with the Thomas More Society filed the lawsuit on behalf of two pro-life groups and several individuals who claimed police incorrectly enforced a “bubble zone” ordinance used in front of abortion centers to push back protesters.

A district judge ruled in January that while the ordinance isn’t unconstitutional, police had misapplied it. The city agreed to pay the group’s attorney fees and train officers in the actual ordinance details and in constitutionally protected free speech rights.

According to the ordinance, anyone less than 50 feet from a building entrance who wants to approach someone to talk, hand out a pamphlet, or hold a sign, must get their permission before coming closer than eight feet.

Instead, Chicago officers kept sidewalk counselors 50 feet away from abortion centers and let abortion center escorts approach people without their permission, according to Thomas More attorneys.

“Pro-abortion propaganda claims that pro-life counselors intimidate women approaching abortion clinics,” lawyer Thomas Olp said. “That is not true. That type of engagement would be ineffective. Pro-life sidewalk counselors compassionately and calmly approach women, one-on-one, to offer them information about abortion alternatives.”

The Thomas More Society still hopes to prove the ordinance unconstitutional with an appeal of the original ruling.

— by Samantha Gobba

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