Considered strictly by its legal subject matter, Teesdale v. City of Chicago is a bit of a snoozer. Primarily about “standing” and what constitutes a city policy, it’s hardly deserving of a headline like The High Cost of Free Speech in Chicagoland or that article’s picture of a duct-taped mouth. But its facts are compelling. The crescendo-fact is a Baptist preacher arrested while preaching on the streets of Chicago. Amplifying the crescendo, consider one of the Court’s findings:
The district court held that the 2008 arrest did not violate Pastor Teesdale’s Fourth Amendment rights because the officers had probable cause to arrest Teesdale for disorderly conduct and were entitled to qualified immunity.
So we have a preacher, an arrest, and a court approving of the arrest. But before we get carried away and start using boldface and exclamation points to describe the case, here’s a little something to make us pause: “This decision was not appealed.” That’s right – Pastor Teesdale did continue to litigate, but he didn’t press on to claim his arrest was unconstitutional. So there must be something going on other than a virtual police-state arresting a preacher. And there is.
Pastor Teesdale was, indeed, preaching on a Chicago street, but it wasn’t just any street on any day. It was during an annual festival hosted by a local Catholic church. Each year the city would block off two streets around the church for the occasion. Teesdale’s entry to the festival is described by the Court:
On July 12, 2008, Pastor Teesdale and several members of his church entered the east end of the festival and began walking down one of the blocked-off streets. Teesdale carried a bullhorn, while the other Garfield Church members carried signs and a banner with Scripture verses. The group engaged festival patrons in conversation and handed out gospel tracts.
Teesdale was then confronted by Ray Kolasinki, the head of the security team for the festival, who was a parishioner and a police officer who was working as an off-duty volunteer. Here’s how that confrontation went:
… [Kolasinki] told him that although he could preach at the festival, he could not use a bullhorn. Kolasinski also said that the group could not distribute literature without St. Symphorosa’s permission. Teesdale then attempted to speak through the bullhorn. Kolasinski responded by taking Teesdale’s arms, handcuffing them behind his back, and telling Teesdale that he was under arrest.
The security officer went too far when he said the literature couldn’t be distributed, but was it wrong to forbid the bullhorn? As we address that question, we’ll temporarily set legal analysis to the side. Instead, let’s zoom out to the big picture and talk about how we are both Christians and citizens. To say it another way, we have a kind of dual citizenship. As Christians, we will find ourselves antithetical to others in important and deeply held ways. But, at the same time, we share citizenship with those “others” and we are, in an important sense, together with them in making our country function in mutually beneficial ways.
There’s a slim chance I would be content to sit under Pastor Teesdale’s preaching. Actually, make that chance “none.” As a point of agreement, we likely share the same conviction that the gospel is obscured in the Roman Catholic Church, but if I were to visit the Catholic festival I’d be inclined to look for a flaky pastry, a cup of coffee, and some pleasant conversation, figuring there are other times, other places, and other ways to deal with our religious differences. Obviously Pastor Teesdale disagrees with that, and felt compelled to confront them during their festival. Still, even Pastor Teesdale would likely agree that, though the gospel should be preached, there are appropriate ways and means to do so. I doubt he would go barging into a nursing home, a public school, or a Catholic church during the Mass with his bullhorn. That’s because, at some level, even Pastor Teesdale will admit that religious rights are not a zero-sum game; it’s not the case that every time one side gets something less than maximum expression that it loses and some other side wins. Maybe there’s a way of maintaining our convictions and being able to express them, but with rules of accomodation that make everyone better off.
In the case at hand, there is a public place, a group hosting an event in that public place, and a man with the conviction that he must address people there with a message contrary to their beliefs. The task of both citizens and the courts is to find a balance that recognizes all these. A prudent district court judge did, indeed, find a balance:
the district court urged the parties to come to a temporary agreement allowing the plaintiffs to enter the festival on terms acceptable to both sides. The parties thus prepared a standby order, which the district court entered. This order permitted Pastor Teesdale and up to nine other Garfield Church members to enter the festival during specific hours with some limitations on the size of their signs and a prohibition on using a bullhorn or other sound enhancing device.
So under that order, Pastor Teesdale could use the public space to share his message, the occasion could still substantially be the event of the Catholic church, and, moreover, Teesdale and the Catholic church agreed to these terms. That’s civil wisdom – thank you, Your Honor.
One might say the parties agreed to “reasonable content-neutral time, place and manner restrictions” on Pastor Teesdale’s speech. Lo and behold, that’s a legal standard for permissible restrictions on speech in a public forum such as the streets of Chicago. As the United States Court of Appeals court noted,
Such restrictions would include, for example, prohibiting someone from using a bullhorn during a public festival. Even without a bullhorn, a person is still able to express his message.
It’s clear that Pastor Teesdale and his partisans understand something about their religious citizenship. Let’s hope there will be a growing understanding of their – and our – earthly citizenship as well.