A Day at the Museum

(8/14/06)

Here’s a little saga of my experience with leafleting at the Museum of Science and Industry, for those interested.

Museum Story Links

At 9 am on Friday, August 11, the opening day of the exhibit, I went to the museum to pass out our flyers. It had never been our intent to in any way interfere with the operation of the Museum of Science and Industry (I’m a big fan of the museum, just not the integrity of this particular exhibit).

Security Guard

Because I wanted to be cooperative, my first step was to go up to the security station and ask for any Museum policy or guidance regarding the passing out of flyers. The security guard on duty didn’t know the answer so she called her supervisor.

Security Supervisor

The supervisor said that he had been expecting me (maybe they read Drug WarRant, or was it the questions from the press the day before that tipped them off), and informed me that passing out flyers was prohibited anywhere on Museum grounds, all the way out to the main streets, and including the lagoon (!). (I really wasn’t planning on passing out flyers at the lagoon.) I asked if that included the drop-off drive with the bus stops and he said that I was not allowed to pass out flyers there. So, I explained that this didn’t fit with my understanding of the constitution, particularly since this was political speech specifically connected to a museum exhibit, and I asked if there was anyone else who had more knowledge. He called Lisa Miner, the public relations person for the museum. He also warmly thanked me for the courtesy of coming to security first to discuss what I wanted to do.

Director of Public Relations

After one other person who just seemed to come by to mark time while waiting for his boss to arrive, I then talked with Lisa Miner, Director of Public Relations. I repeated my request and re-emphasized my desire to work with the museum, repeated my general admiration for the museum, and that I merely wanted to find a good solution that allows us to speak, and makes the museum comfortable that we won’t be interfering with their operation. She said that I was not allowed to pass out flyers anywhere on the property, including out to the main streets (specifically noting that the drop-off drive wasn’t allowed). Once again, I mentioned that it was my understanding (although I’m not a lawyer), that leafleting was a constitutionally protected form of speech, and that it enjoyed additional protection when it specifically related to the activity in the location of the speech. Again, I understood that there were reasonable restrictions to this — I obviously didn’t expect to be wandering around inside the museum passing out flyers. I quite frankly expected the museum to have experience with this and to be able to point me to specific areas where I could speak and still reach a majority of the visitors without interfering with museum operations.

Well, Lisa was stumped.

We agreed that she would talk to “her people” to get a further legal clarification, while I purchased a ticket and visited the exhibit. She asked me not to pass out any flyers until she had the clarification and I replied that it had never been my intention to do so. In fact, at this point, the only people I had offered the flyer were the security manager and Ms. Miner. They were remarkably uninterested in even looking at the flyer (leading me to believe that they were already aware of its contents).

Vice President

While I was viewing the exhibit as a paying guest, I was approached by the expanded group, now accompanied by Museum Vice President and CFO Joel Asprooth.

Asprooth started the conversation in a very antagonistic manner, by demanding to see my ticket, and then showing me the wording on the back stating that he had the right to remove me from the museum premises if I did anything that, in his opinion, was “objectionable.” And he said that he would not hesitate to do so. (Quite frankly, I was offended by his approach, but it’s possible that he was misinformed by his staff and somehow believed that there were a bunch of drug addicts shooting up and causing a riot in the museum, instead of one man politely asking for policy and legal clarification.)

I said that it was not my intention to do anything objectionable. I merely wanted to enjoy my constitutional right of speech, and preferred to work with the museum. He seemed a bit taken aback, and rather gruffly said that I couldn’t do it anywhere inside the museum, but I’d have to be outside by the street.

I said, “OK, what does that mean?” He mentioned that I could do it at the drop-off drive. I said “You mean, where the bus stops are?” And he said yes. I said “Fine, that’s all I wanted to know.”

I then proceeded to pass out flyers on the sidewalk between the bus stop and the main entrance. I only gave flyers to adults (given the fact that the exhibit is marked as inappropriate for younger children, we have no interest in involving children), and only if they wanted a flyer. I never stood in front of, or blocked, the entrance.

While not thrilled about the fact that I was missing all the people who came by car and parked in the underground garage, I still felt like we would be able to reach some people.

I was getting some great comments from people who got the flyers — some mentioned that they had read about it in the paper that morning. One said he came out specifically because he had read about it in some blog.

New Restrictions

Shortly thereafter, the security supervisor came out and said that he had been informed that we were to be restricted to the sidewalk area between the external walls of the two entrance kiosks (highlighted in pink on the map below). I asked for clarification from him twice and he verified that the only spot on the grounds where we would be allowed to hand out flyers was that specific chunk of sidewalk.

This new restriction meant that we were specifically denied access to about 98% of the visitors to the museum. We had already been denied access to anyone coming to the museum by car and parking in the garage, since they enter the museum underground. Now, by putting us between the entrances, we were prevented from speaking to anyone arriving by foot or public transportation, since they would go in an entrance without passing us.

Museum of Science and Industry flyer zone

Notice how anyone coming to the museum from any direction in any manner would get to a museum entrance without passing us.

Here I am, waiting for someone to wander out into my “safe” zone.

Passing out Flyers at the Museum

Notice that I didn’t look much like some kind of a druggie troublemaker. Dressed professionally, a name badge on a lanyard around my neck. Professionally printed flyers in a nice messenger bag. Good thing I brought the hat — there was no shade in the “safe zone.”

Can they do this? I think not.

Constitutional Concerns

As the Supreme Court ruled in Hague v. Committee for Industrial Organization:

“Wherever the title of streets and parks may rest, they have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public and, time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions. Such use of the streets and public places has, from ancient times, been a part of the privileges, immunities, rights, and liberties of citizens.”

The court also noted that these right are not absolute, and that the government has legitimate interests in preserving order, but cautioned that speech “must not, in the guise of regulation, be abridged or denied.”

In overturning the requirement to get permission before passing out flyers on a public sidewalk (Lovell v. City of Griffin, GA), the Supreme Court stated:

“The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. These indeed have been historic weapons in the defense of liberty, as the pamphlets of Thomas Paine and others in our own history abundantly attest. … ‘Liberty of circulating is as essential to that freedom as liberty of publishing; indeed, without the circulation, the publication would be of little value.'”

So let’s check a little further. Since the Museum of Science and Industry is part of the Chicago Park District, we’ll check the Code of the Chicago Park District (pdf).

Chapter VII – Use of Parks
Section C – Permits…
3. Permit Requirement
a. General.
No person shall, without a permit:
(1) conduct a public assembly, parade, picnic, or other event involving more than fifty individuals;
[We will never have that many people involved. This weekend, it was one or two at a time.]
(2) circulate or distribute any leaflets, handbills, notices, pamphlets, books,
documents or papers of any kind in any indoor facility, fieldhouse, garden,
zoological garden or other special facility;
[Understandable. However, we would like clarification as to parking facilities that directly connect to another facility underground.] …
(9) sell or offer for sale any goods or services; [We are not selling anything.]
(10) display, post or distribute any placard, handbill, pamphlet, circular, book or other writing containing commercial advertising matter within the Park
System;
[Our material has no commercial advertising. It is speech only.] …

Note: It’s possible that part of the confusion on the part of the security staff of the Museum may be that they have not been educated regarding the difference between political speech and commercial advertising, and that while banning commercial advertising anywhere on museum grounds is legal, banning speech is not.

I’ve found no provisions in the Code of the Chicago Park District that would legitimately prevent us from speaking anywhere outside on the Museum grounds where the general public is allowed to travel.

I’d love to hear from any legal types with a clearer point of view than this.

Needless to say, we’ll be pursuing this further with the Chicago Park District, because the current situation is unacceptable from a Constitutional perspective.

And we’ve got a several more months to leaflet the place…

Of course, we’d love to be able to stand in the main hall where they sell tickets and reach everyone who comes in from the parking decks, the main entrances, etc., but I’m not holding my breath (the various entrances from the stairwells (and also elevators) are at the far end in this picture).

Entrance Hall

The exhibit will be there until December, so we have lots of time to pass out flyers. If you’d like to volunteer, let us know.

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