ACLU of Illinois

Know Your Rights: Freedom of expression in Chicago
March 13, 2012

Can I protest on the public sidewalk?

The First Amendment generally bars government from requiring a permit when one person, or a small group, protest in a park, or when a group of any size protest on a public sidewalk in a manner that does not burden pedestrian or vehicle traffic. Such non-permitted protests might involve speeches, press conferences, signs, marches, chants, leaflets, expressive clothing, and efforts to speak with passersby. The absence of a permit for such protests simply does not burden any legitimate government interests. Thus, the Chicago Park District does not require a permit for gatherings in parks of fewer than 50 people. Likewise, the Chicago ordinance regulating public assembly does not require a permit for gatherings and marches on sidewalks that do not obstruct the normal flow of pedestrian traffic. Protestors have additional protections if they are responding to “breaking news.” Thus, in the Chicago ordinance requiring permit applications 15 days before a parade, and notice to the City five days before a sidewalk demonstration that would impede pedestrian traffic, there is an exemption for spontaneous responses to current events.