Parts of Aurora parade permit law likely unconstitutional, federal judge says in gay pride event suit

A group from St. Mark's Lutheran Church marches Sunday during the Aurora Pride parade along Downer Place.

A federal judge on Thursday ruled parts of Aurora’s special events permit law likely violate the First Amendment and prohibit the city from enforcing them for the Aurora Pride parade.

The city’s inability to get enough police officers to sign up for security duty at the parade, scheduled for June 11, effectively allows them and the city to discriminate against groups if the officers’ personal beliefs differ, according to Judge Martha Pacold of the U.S. Northern Illinois District Court, who issued a preliminary injunction.

“The constitutional issue is that the discretion inherent in allowing volunteer city employees to choose which events to staff allows for the type of content-based discrimination at which the First Amendment is directed,” Pacold wrote. “The financial incentives permit individual volunteer employees, and in turn the city, to increase the charge for a disfavored speaker to hold an event of similar size and scope as one of a favored speaker.”

The Aurora police union contract forbids the city from forcing officers to work overtime for private events.

“We’re very pleased that the judge agreed with most of our legal arguments, and that the path is clear for a successful parade,” Aurora Pride President Gwen Ciesla said Friday.

Mayor Richard Irvin commented in a written statement on Friday.

“Since the first Pride Parade in 2018, my administration has actively advocated for and publicly supported the parade and other Pride activities,” Irvin said. “Just as I said last year during the Pride Flag Raising Ceremony, our goal is to have an inclusive, safe, energetic, and empowering event in Aurora. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again this year.”

Aurora Pride sued in January.

Aurora Pride in 2022 received a permit for its parade and agreed to a standard requirement to pay for police officers assigned to security, traffic control and other duties.

But then the group asked Aurora and Elgin police officers who wanted to march in the parade to not wear their uniforms, saying the sight of uniformed officers sometimes offends people because of previous unjust treatment of the LGBTQ community by police. The officers disagreed.

Irvin criticized Aurora Pride over that, and he announced he would not be in the parade and withdrew a city float.

Seventeen officers who had signed up to work overtime changed their minds, leaving too few to have it safely, according to police officials. In a deposition, a police official said that the officers reneged out of support for the marching officers. The city canceled the permit.

The city offered triple pay for officers, and enough signed up to hold the parade.

“Aurora’s system likely violates the First Amendment because it lacks the narrowly drawn, objective criteria necessary to avoid content-based considerations determining the existence or scope of permits,” Pacold wrote. “It follows logically that the government cannot alter the existence or scope of a parade due to its potential popularity or unpopularity among those whose presence is required for the parade to go forward.”