Court clears path for publishing company to sue city over posting ordinance

By Dawn Geske | Sep 26, 2016

CHICAGO – A nonprofit publishing company will be allowed to press its lawsuit against the city of Chicago over its ordinance restricting certain posters on city light poles.

RCP Publications filed the lawsuit when it received a notice from the city that it had violated Chicago's Posting Bills regulation, for a posting that the city deemed contained commercial advertising material. RCP is alleging the Posting Bills law restricts its First Amendment right to free speech under the Constitution.

The sign in question was for a free streaming movie that RCP was hosting on its website, entitled: “Revolution and Religion: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion.” RCP publishes material on political and philosophical topics, mostly related to communism.

A second party, BA Everywhere Committee, which was hosting a premiere of the movie, produced a series of signs that advertised the premiere as well as the website hosting. BA Everywhere gave signs to a variety of individuals to post as they wished. An unknown person posted one of the signs to a street pole in Chicago, causing RCP to get a violation.

While the movie streamed in March, RCP didn’t receive the violation notice until July. RCP contested the ticket but a judge imposed a $350 fine plus $40 in fees. RCP followed with a lawsuit against the city, which filed a motion to dismiss the case. The city's motion was denied.

“The case is going forward and we’re proceeding with our constitutional challenge to the city’s bills ordinance under the First Amendment,” Adele D. Nicholas, attorney for RCP at the Law Office of Adele D. Nicholas, told the Cook County Record.

The City of Chicago gave RCP a violation because its Posting Bills ordinance regulates the posting of commercial advertising materials. While commercial advertising materials are not defined in the Chicago Municipal Code, RCP was cited for an alleged violation, which Nicholas says limits the organization’s free speech rights.

“That interpretation has an impact that really limits our client’s ability to engage in political speech and activism,” Nicholas said.

Nicholas calls two things into question about the Posting Bills ordinance in the city.

“There are two ways this is problematic,” said Nicholas. “One – how it’s drafted; and two – how they’re enforcing it. We’d like to see both of those things change. They say this ordinance is needed to prevent loitering and city litter on properties, but it only applies to what they deem commercial speech, meaning that people can post an unlimited number of signs and bills that are communicating any other kind of message.”

RCP has argued that the Posting Bills ordinance regulate speech by topic, allowing other materials to be posted that are not commercial. It doesn’t see how this stipulation meets the city’s interest in limiting this material.

“We don’t really think that the ordinance actually serves their supported interest,” said Nicholas. “We would like the city to reform the Posting Bills ordinance.”

The film that was advertised in the sign was focused on a conversation between Bob Avakian and Cornel West – both intellectuals in the political arena.

U.S. District Court Judge Matthew F. Kennelly is presiding over the case and ruled against the city’s motion to dismiss.

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City of Chicago Law Office of Adele D. Nicholas U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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