Owing to a small but energetic outside group, many words have been appearing on the Internet and in public leafleting, public forums, and several online and printed articles concerning an event at our Society on Sunday, Nov. 1 of last year. Following the resolution of the subsequent legal proceedings this past August, our Board of Trustees has approved making this public statement in order to clarify the facts. This link will be maintained on our website for a limited time, and then removed. We, as a Society, have long since moved beyond this unfortunate episode, even though the misrepresentations live on.
The Board authorizes our Program Committee to solicit, evaluate, and invite speakers to our Sunday morning meetings. Each year, the Committee considers many proposals for possible speakers. In the spring of 2009, a Committee member submitted the name of a New York-based writer to speak on one of two suggested subjects. The Committee rejected one subject but authorized the member to explore the other subject, pending a written description of her talk. A tentative date of Nov. 1 was placed on the schedule. When, months later, the written description was received, it described a talk primarily on the explicitly rejected subject matter. After asking (unsuccessfully) that the speaker adjust the talk, the Committee voted not to offer a contract to the speaker; a different program was scheduled and advertised for Nov 1. (Both sides at the ensuing trial acknowledged that the speaker in question was not the scheduled presenter for Nov. 1.)
A workshop by this speaker was authorized for the afternoon of Saturday, Oct. 31 and an alternate site was publicized for the speaker to present Sunday morning at a large house volunteered by a then-member. At the workshop, the speaker denounced our Society and made clear her plan to appear with her supporters the following morning to insist on her right to speak again at the Society. She had already made this intention clear through repeated communications. Her groupís video of the statement that began her talk, which we allowed to be made, was posted immediately on her blog site. Her stated intentions combined with the uncertainty of what might transpire the next day caused us concern for the safety of our Society members. Accordingly, the Board of Trustees moved our Sunday School off-site for the morning and hired a single off-duty, plainclothes police officer to be on hand.
She and a cohort of her supporters did enter our auditorium Sunday morning, and she began speaking from the front. Other than requesting that she not speak, no further attempt was made to stop her. One of her supporters was documenting her actions with a video camera. We were under no legal or ethical obligation to allow such recording again on our property, in our auditorium. The supporter ignored repeated directions to stop filming.
The plainclothes officer, acting as our agent, identified himself as a police officer. He told the supporter that he was on private property and that if he would not stop filming, he would have to leave. The supporter put down his video camera, but again began recording using another video recording device. The plainclothes officer and a second, uniformed officer, who had responded to the firstís call for back-up, directed him to put down the recording device and began to escort him quietly from the auditorium. However, upon being further informed that he was under arrest for criminal trespass, he shoved the first officer and began struggling to escape the second. The melee that followed spilled through the adjoining hallway and into our atrium. The supporter was finally subdued and handcuffed with the help of several more officers who had responded to the call and a one-second burst of pepper spray that was given after a warning. The supporterís actions resulted in complaints from the Society of misdemeanor criminal trespass, and from the State of simple battery, and resisting arrest. The officers involved acted professionally and appropriately throughout.
At the conclusion of the trial, which was held August 24-26, 2010 at the Circuit Court of Cook County, Skokie, Illinois, the jury quickly returned verdicts of guilty on all three counts. The prosecutionís case consisted of eyewitness testimony by two Society members, testimony by the first two police officers on the scene, and surprisingly detailed video and photographic documentation submitted by the defense. The defendant did not testify. He was taken immediately into custody following the verdict. This action was a consequence of his previous lengthy legal history. This history was not introduced during the trial.
On September 8, 2010, the defendant received a sentence of 300 days, including 13 days already served. He declined to speak on his own behalf at the sentencing. The judge noted in her ruling that, because of the defendantís actions, this went from a peaceful program to a disturbance that put every person there at risk.
Not surprisingly, the chaotic events resulted in many discussions within the Society. Two members stated that they resigned specifically over their disagreements. The Program Committee member who proposed the speaker and had primary communication responsibility with her did not renew his membership for the next year.
We have also gained new members who value our programs, activities, philosophy, and sense of community. We will continue in our mission of providing a supportive and engaging humanist community, welcoming to all those of good heart and open mind.
Board of Trustees
Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago
Stephen Julstrom, President
September 15, 2010