ACLU of Illinois

Know Your Rights: Freedom of expression in Chicago
March 15, 2012

When do I need a permit? What if I cannot afford the cost of the permit?

Some protests may require a permit as a condition of protest on public property.  For example, government often can require a permit for parades in the streets, given the impact on vehicle traffic.  Likewise, government often can require a permit for large protests in public parks and plazas, in order to ensure fairness among the various groups seeking to use the site.

The First Amendment limits the kinds of permit fees and other financial burdens that government can impose on protesters.  First, the charges cannot exceed the actual cost to government to regulate speech in the site.   Second, government cannot charge protesters more when additional police are needed to control opponents of the protesters – that would be a kind of a “heckler’s veto.”   Third, government cannot use an insurance requirement to bar a protest by a group that unsuccessfully attempted to obtain insurance.   Fourth, there must be an exception for groups that cannot afford to pay the charges.   For example, in the Chicago ordinance requiring certain parade organizers to obtain $1,000,000 in insurance, there is an exception where this would be “so financially burdensome that it would preclude” the application.